2019 June 23
Conscious: A Brief Guide
Annaka Harris has written a book that sets a new standard for consciousness studies. Its great merit, apart from its being so smoothly readable that
I read it in a single unwearied sitting, is that it is both passionate and authoritative. Harris knows her topic intimately, in scientific detail,
and demonstrates a close and critical understanding of all the main ideas and theories. Her opinions make eminently good sense and raise all the
niggling doubts that have bothered me, too.
Her sympathy with Thomas Nagel's idea that an organism X is conscious if and only if there is something it is like to be X is
conventional but problematic. What this "definition" does is to shift the burden onto the question of being, with a baldly declarative claim that
merely begs the question.
Harris takes her time with David Chalmers' work on the hard problem of consciousness. His argument is almost mathematical in its
clarity, and in its logic recalls the diagonal argument Cantor used to prove the uncountability of the real numbers. It stands as a logical
critique of any scientific theory of consciousness, or indeed as a gloss on the epistemic predicament of any centered subject in any objective
world. As such, it can almost be bracketed out from the scientific enterprise.
Harris is rightly both critical of the work on the neuroscience of consciousness and sympathetic to that work. Her criticism focuses
on the extent to which it engages with consciousness itself, as opposed to cognitive performance and the construction of a functional self from
neural activity. Her sympathy is only human, and neuroscience is where public funding should be devoted to advance consciousness studies.
I share the curiosity and interest Harris has for the idea of panpsychism. The puzzles of quantum physics and those surrounding the
concept of time are really beyond the scope of neuroscience. Yet these questions are where consciousness leads us, which suggests the need for
a major paradigm shift. As I see it, qualia, the quanta of experience, can only survive scrutiny as, say, the "phenomenal vibrancy" of
physically fundamental quanta such as photons, which hints at vast domains of utterly nonhuman phenomenology.
Harris has hit all the right notes and hit no dud ones that I can see. As an introduction to the current state of consciousness
studies, it has no equal.
Tweedledon and Tweedledud
Steve Bannon advised
Boris Johnson on key
Leave speech (2:57)
talks about neuroscience,
consciousness, free will,
UK PM Poll Round 5
Result of afternoon
vote by Tory MPs:
Michael Gove ✗
UK PM Poll Round 4
Result of morning vote
by Conservative MPs:
Sajid Javid ✗
Dawn mission images show
dwarf planet Ceres hosts
young ice cryovolcano
Man Up and Face Me
The next prime minister will be overseeing the UK economy, upon which the jobs of millions of families depend. He will be taking charge of the Brexit
negotiations, perhaps the biggest political challenge we have faced in peacetime.
Scrutiny of the candidates matters. One of the strengths of our system is that we scrutinise our politicians with more intelligent
ferocity than anywhere in the world. Yet Boris is refusing to do TV debates.
The next prime minister will be chosen by just 160,000 Conservative party members. I know they want a fair and open contest, not one
that one side is trying to rig to avoid scrutiny.
I am not interested in debating Boris's private life. But I do want to quiz him on how he can "guarantee" we will leave the EU on
October 31 if parliament votes to stop a no-deal Brexit.
A new prime minister needs the legitimacy of having made his arguments publicly and having them subjected to scrutiny.
Don't be a coward Boris, man up and show the nation you can cope.
2019 June 23
Boris Johnson was struggling to keep his campaign to become prime minister on course on Saturday night as he refused to explain why police had been called
to his home after a loud, late-night row with his partner Carrie Symonds. At the first hustings of the leadership contest in front of party members,
he said people did not "want to hear about that kind of thing".
The police confirmed they were called to the couple's south London flat. Neighbors said they heard slamming and banging. Symonds was heard
telling Johnson to "get off me" and "get out of my flat".
Neighbor Tom Penn: "In the early hours of Friday morning .. I heard what sounded like shouting .. from a neighbor's flat. It was loud enough
and angry enough that I felt frightened and concerned for the welfare of those involved, so I went inside my own home, closed the door, and pressed
record on the voice memos app on my phone. After a loud scream and banging, followed by silence, I ran upstairs, and with my wife agreed we should
check on our neighbors. I knocked three times at their front door, but there was no response .. we agreed that we should call the police."
Another neighbor, Fatimah: "It was really loud, loud enough to make me turn down the TV and see what was going on. I could hear shouting
and screaming from a lady, she sounded really angry."
The sight of Boris Johnson in full flow convinced me years ago, when I worked alongside him in Brussels reporting on the EU for The Daily Telegraph,
that he was temperamentally unsuitable to be entrusted with any position of power.
When I worked as his deputy in Brussels in an office of two, it took a long time to get used to what became known as his "four o'clock rants"
in which he hurled four-letter words at an innocent yucca plant for several minutes at deadline time every day to work himself into a frenzy to write his
creative tracts against the EU.
His attitude to women — endless affairs leaving a string of women behind him — has long been one of entitlement and lack of
respect. He has boasted to other men that he needs plenty of women on the go as he is "bursting with spunk" — descriptions of women as "fillies"
in earlier years sullied his reputation with many women as an unreconstructed sexist.
Johnson's former Commons secretary Melissa Crawshay-Williams: "80% of the time working with him was wonderful. The other 20% was terrible.
Boris would swear a lot when he was frustrated."
Telegraph sub-editor Mark Stanway endured years of late copy that prevented him from getting home on time. Editor Charles Moore eventually
tired of such discourtesy and one week discarded his copy. Stanway: "Boris went completely ape. He phoned me f-ing and c-ing. I said it wasn't my
decision. Boris has a ferocious temper. He is not a cuddly teddy bear."
A Bit of a Dud
Boris Johnson, 2016
Think of Britain. Think of the rest of the EU. Think of the future ..
I can see why people might just think, to hell with it. I want out. I want to take back control ..
I like the sound of restoring democracy. But ..
There are some big questions that the "out" side need to answer:
△ Almost everyone expects there to be some sort of economic shock as a result of a Brexit ..
△ And then there is the worry about Scotland ..
△ And then there is the whole geostrategic anxiety ..
Shouldn't our policy be like our policy on cake — pro having it and pro eating it?
Yes, folks, the deal's a bit of a dud.
Churchill College, Cambridge, December 2013: A hundred or so libertarians gather to hear Steve Bannon talk with members of the Young Britons Foundation
(YBF), an insurgency movement within the Conservative Party.
The YBF emphasized promoting liberty, relaxing gun control, and privatizing the NHS (a 60-year mistake, according to YBF president Daniel
Hannan) and originated as an offshoot of the Young Americas Foundation (YAF).
Bannon had allied with YAF funder Robert Mercer in 2012 to become executive director of the alt-right Breitbart website. Bannon planned
to use military-grade target audience acquisition technology on the US population.
Vladimir Putin set up the Internet Research Agency to deliver social media propaganda against Ukraine. In 2014, the agency hired dozens
of English-speaking graduates to promote Donald Trump and attack the EU.
Bannon's friend Nigel Farage declared that Vladimir Putin was the political leader he most admired. Farage was soon appearing regularly
on the Russian propaganda TV network Russia Today.
Johnson and Farage won the 2016 Leave vote with help from Bannon and Putin.
2019 June 22
March of the Machines
"Artificial intelligence is the future, not only in Russia but for all mankind .. whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become ruler of the
— Vladimir Putin, 2017
Artificial intelligence is evolving at a prodigious rate, with profound implications for society. Thinking machines can make us safer, healthier and
more efficient. They will enable us to work and worry less, love and live more fully, and save money, natural resources, and time. There is very
little that AI will not help with.
To date, the great advances in AI use domain-specific machine learning. Such systems take data from their environment and use it to
make predictions and take action. With ever more computing power, and ever richer rivers of data, the machines are growing cleverer and acquiring
more knowledge, learning from experience, just as humans do.
Artificial general intelligence (AGI) is not far off. Beyond that is the prospect of artificial superintelligence (ASI). With the
advent of the Singularity, humans will no longer be the most intelligent beings on Earth.
AI is only as intelligent as the information fed into it, and data is frequently flawed, incomplete, or biased. Machine logic cannot
always cope with an unpredictable, irrational, idiosyncratic world. It will be difficult to impose a single moral framework on thinking machines.
In military technology, a new arms race is underway. Autonomous killing machines are being developed by military scientists around the
globe. How can killer robots best conduct warfare?
2019 Summer Solstice
Oxford University, Brexit Nursery
Six of the seven men who survived the first round of the Tory leadership contest studied at Oxford. The final two candidates, Boris Johnson and
Jeremy Hunt, were contemporaries there. The UK is thus about to install its 11th Oxonian prime minister since the war.
In the 1980s, Oxford was still a very British university, shot through with dilettantism, sexual harassment, and sherry. Johnson graduated
in 1987, Michael Gove and Hunt in 1988.
Being president of the Oxford Union was the first step to being prime minister, said Michael Heseltine. The debating society was a kind of
teenage House of Commons. Almost all aspiring Tory politicians passed through the Union. Europe rarely came up then.
Johnson went up to Oxford from Eton in 1983 with three aims: to get a First, find a wife, and become Union president. He had run Eton's
debating society, and his father had come to Oxford in 1959 intending to become Union president. Boris just missed his First. His sister Rachel said
it later fell to her to "break the terrible news" to him that their brother Jo had got a First.
As Union president in 1988, Gove wrote: "We are all here, part of an elite. It is our duty to bear that in mind." Meanwhile, Jeremy Hunt,
OUCA president in 1987, was calmer: "OUCA remains a moderate association controlled by neither libertarians nor any other faction within
the Conservative party, and exists to represent the views of all Conservative students at Oxford."
In 1988, Margaret Thatcher suddenly turned Eurosceptic. In her Bruges speech, she warned against a European superstate exercising a new
dominance from Brussels. That idea spooked the Oxford Tories. They revered Britain's medieval parliament filled with witty English banter, whereas
Brussels offered ugly modernism and jargon-ridden Globish. In 1990, future OUCA president Dan Hannan founded the Oxford Campaign for an Independent
Oxford's "prime minister's degree" is PPE: politics, philosophy, economics. In 2016, the PPE graduates were almost all Remainers:
David Cameron, Hunt, Rory Stewart, Philip Hammond, Matt Hancock, and so on. By contrast, Johnson read Classics, Gove English Literature,
and Hannan History.
Timothy Garton Ash: "Public schools and the culture around them provide a training in superficial articulacy: essay writing, public
speaking, carrying it off. The Oxford Union reinforces that, even among those who didn't go to public school. Compare and contrast the German
AR When I matriculated in Oxford in 1969, the arts were still held in higher esteem than the sciences. To my shame,
I switched from physics to PPE before moving on to graduate work in mathematical logic. I still hold the politics crowd in some disdain.
2019 June 20
A Diminished Country
Hard Brexit is hard Brexit. I don't see how you can sweeten it. A no-deal Brexit will be chaos.
I hope that when the new prime minister reads all the briefs and gets aware of all details of where we are at in terms of the Brexit
negotiations, he will realise that something has to change in terms of the British position. If not, the only solution on the table is the present
Even with a "normal" Brexit, the UK will be a diminished country. It is unavoidable.
AR Mark Rutte is the prime minister of the Netherlands and wants good relations with the UK.
We Back Boris
The Evening Standard backs Boris Johnson to be the next prime minister:
☆ He has a chance of uniting this divided government. The fact that he already has the support
of half of all Tory MPs is a promising start. That's the realpolitik.
☆ He has the most room for manoeuvre to get the country out of the Brexit mess. Ask yourself
who first came up with the idea of two referendums back in early 2016. He promises to get a
renegotiated withdrawal agreement out of the EU. Perhaps he will. Most likely he will not.
☆ He might just get Britain feeling good about itself again. He knows there's a "serious job of
work to be done" — and his more sober approach to this campaign is a start.
If anyone can give Britain back its mojo, it's BoJo.
The UK is poorly led by a political elite that has great difficulties with the truth. As former UK ambassador to the EU, I am discouraged by just how badly
Brexit has been handled to date, and pessimistic that this is going to get any better any time soon.
I was in Brussels running the preparation process for Theresa May's first European council in October 2016. I was able to feel the severe
frost — and the total internal solidarity — her speech 10 days previously to the party conference had engendered.
Think ahead to the October European council this year. Do we think Boris Johnson will, in his first leader's speech to conference, have set
out a subtle, nuanced, principled, and collaborative approach to sober up the party faithful?
Brexit is the price the Conservative party is paying for the flowering of many of the poisonous political seeds planted under Margaret Thatcher. She
bequeathed a party to John Major that was increasingly anti-European, indifferent to regional policy, and in favour of tax cuts at the expense of
public spending as a matter of dogma.
This process has been brutally accelerated by the party's doctrinal obsession with Brexit. By two to one, a poll this week found that
Tory members would rather Brexit took place even if it meant significant damage to the economy, and even if it meant Scotland and Northern Ireland
leaving the UK. A large majority of Tories even think Brexit is more important than the survival of their party. Half of them would be happy for
Nigel Farage to be their new leader.
The Tory party used to rest on a platform of realism. But there is zero realism in a debate about Brexit between leadership candidates
who have no idea how they are going to get a no-deal Brexit, which most voters do not want, through a parliament that does not want it either.
The Tory party is now based on faith, not open to ideas. This has happened when civil society in Britain has made the opposite journey
toward openness to ideas and away from dogma. For that reason, the Conservative party may now be beyond conserving.
Google has a quantum processor that may be able to generate pure randomness. In the quantum world, systems in a superposition of states, when measured, pop
into one state. We can calculate probabilities for the outcome, but the result is random.
One way to pull randomness out of a quantum computer (QC) uses a sampling task. Imagine a box filled with tiles, each labeled with a few
bits. Multiple tiles can have the same label. A sampling task is an algorithm that in effect reaches into a box of tiles and randomly extracts one of
More formally, given a probability distribution for the possible n-bit strings, the algorithm randomly outputs an n-bit
output string. For a classical computer (CC), the task becomes exponentially harder for larger n. But a QC can do better.
Starting with a set of qubits in a given state, qugates then put them into superposed states. A qugate can entangle multiple qubits into
a single quantum state. A set of qugates together make a quantum circuit. To randomly output an n-bit string, a quantum circuit puts n
qubits into a superposition that reflects the desired distribution.
When the qubits are measured, the superposition pops randomly to one n-bit string. The probability of collapse to any given string
is dictated by the distribution specified by the quantum circuit. Measuring the qubits is like sampling a string from the box. The string will be highly
Scott Aaronson explains how to generate randomness. A CC uses some "seed randomness" to specify a quantum circuit, then sends the
description to the QC, which implements the circuit, measures the qubits, and returns the n-bit output string. In doing so, it has randomly
sampled from the distribution specified by the circuit. Now repeat the process over and over.
Aaronson: "It produces a long string that is nearly perfectly random."
AR The QC field is taking off nicely.
UK PM Poll Round 3
Result of today's vote
by Conservative MPs:
✗ Rory drops out
UK PM Poll Round 2
Result of today's vote
by Conservative MPs:
✗ Raab drops out
Almost a Coronation
Result of today's vote
by Conservative MPs:
⦿ The Times
⦿ ESO / A. Müller et al.
PDS 70 blacked out, center;
planet PDS 70b, right
2019 June 19
I think artificial general intelligence (AGI) is possible. There are a lot of mountains to climb before we get to human-level AGI. I think it's going to
be possible in 40−100 years.
AGI will change the world. AGIs are going to be beings with powers initially equivalent to our own and before long much greater than our
own. We need to think hard about how we design superintelligence in order to maximize good consequences.
Consciousness is a matter of subjective experience. You and I have intelligence, but we also have subjectivity. That subjectivity —
consciousness — is what makes our lives meaningful. It's also what gives us moral standing as human beings.
Gradually replace your neurons, one at a time, with computer parts or upload them to a computer. You start as a fully biological system,
and finally you're a fully silicon system. If you make it a functionally perfect simulation throughout, then you're going to be there till the end
still saying, "Yup, I'm still home!" Someone else can still say, "I think you turned into a zombie."
I value human history and selfishly would like it to continue into the future. At some point there are going to be many faster substrates
for running intelligence than our own. If we want to stick to our biological brains, then we are in danger of being left behind.
Oxford Wins AI Donation
The University of Oxford says it is to receive a £150 million donation from US billionaire Stephen Schwarzman to fund humanities research and tackle
looming social issues linked to artificial intelligence. The money will be used to create the Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities.
Schwarzman: "AI is an explosive force that is going to change the world we live in in the next
10−15 years in a very profound way,
some for good and some not so good. [W]hat I realised is that Oxford had certain unique characteristics through its work on the humanities and
philosophy that would complement what the hard scientists were doing around the world."
2019 June 18
Trump and Iran
Michael H. Fuchs
The Trump administration is pushing the discourse on Iran to fever pitch in the wake of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
The fever dream convinces policymakers to cozy up to awful regimes from Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates. It rationalizes support
for the war in Yemen. US allies are frustrated with its sway over US policy.
America does not need to support countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE to counter Iran. A strategy of pressure alongside dialog
produced the nuclear deal. The US should talk to Iran about regional security.
Iran could push a crisis to the brink and raise the chance of war. We need a strategy.
Facebook has revealed plans for a new global digital currency, saying 1.7 billion people around the world will be able to use Libra to make instant and
nearly free international money transfers from their mobile phones. With traditional banks sitting on the sidelines, Facebook is persuading merchants
to use Libra as a means of payment and consumers to see it as a safe store of value.
So far, 28 groups have said they will become backers and integrate the technology into their services. Facebook hopes that 100 groups
will have joined before the currency launches. Libra will be backed by a pool of currencies and assets stored around the world. It will not have a
fixed exchange rate but will not swing as wildly as cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.
Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have not yet signed up. Banks have chosen not to do so yet.
2019 June 17
The story of UK politics is following an ominous plotline. A decade on from 2008, huge social and economic disruption is changing our sense of who
we are and what we want. Unease and outrage are rising about broken systems of power.
Given a choice between an array of political parties, millions of us now jump at the chance. But our collapsing voting system still
privileges two parties. The disaffection pushing Britain toward a multi-party system is only held in check by the miserable method by which we
The fact that the online world offers people a sense of voice and influence is cohering into rising hostility toward the basics of
representative democracy. Some Conservative MPs now believe that if parliament proves troublesome, it should simply be suspended.
Representative democracy hinders immediate gratification and slows down decision making. It is unclear whether this noble ideal can
hold in the face of new technology and our new urgency about things. Impatience is rising in our politics.
Governments will have to embrace innovation. The case for pushing control down to the most local level possible now feels both urgent
and unanswerable. Politicians must get over the idea that in an election, voters should choose between two parties or effectively throw their
A nasty fate awaits Boris Johnson as surely it once awaited absolutist monarchs and the representatives of rotten boroughs. He will
strut around triumphantly for a week or two before being tossed into a political firestorm.
2019 June 16
The Closing of the Conservative Mind
Margaret Thatcher understood the power of ideas. As prime minister, she hosted seminars at Chequers to which historians and policy analysts were invited.
Her goal was not merely to reform the economy but to change the whole mindset of British society.
Since the Thatcher era, the Conservative party has shown few signs of intellectual life. In the absence of any larger economic vision, the
party has retreated behind the cleansing fire of the market. Even the nation, once understood as a living organism, stretching across time through a
web of customs and obligations, has shrivelled into the grotesque banality of UK plc.
Conservatism is no longer rooted in a historic institution that confronted it with a higher set of values than the market. Today,
Conservatives are trapped by the Second World War. The result is a cartoonish morality that privileges resolve over reflection, in which every leader
is either a Chamberlain or a Churchill and foreign policy is a question of appeasement or defiance.
Brexit is a manifestation of these changes. It has burned out the final part of the Conservative tradition, the disposition to preserve.
The tradition now resembles an apocalyptic cult, ready to torch the UK itself in order to build the New Jerusalem.
One need not be on the left to lament a politics that values no relationships that cannot be measured in profit and loss. One need not be
a conservative to fear a politics stripped of caution or respect for tradition, and that favours disruption over preservation, chaos over order, and
competition over community.
A party that once prized skepticism now judges its leaders on the fervour with which they believe in Brexit.
2019 June 15
Dynamics is the study of motion, and in particular the motion of points in a space dictated by a fixed set of rules. For example, the evolution of the
solar system, in its idealized form, unfolds exactly according to the rules of gravity.
A photograph of the current solar system is a static thing. But when you add dynamics, that static picture comes to life. Certain complicated
fractal objects are produced by dynamical systems. The geometric features of the objects carry the marks of the dynamics that produced them.
In the space of all possible solar systems, some really weird evolutions can happen. The future of our solar system is the trajectory of a
single point through this massive dynamical system.
Ergodicity is the property that if you take a point and watch it evolve over time according to a set of rules, it visits all parts of the
space. Mixing is the property that if you take a blob in the space and see how that part of the space evolves, it gets evenly distributed throughout
A foliation, in its simplest form is just a family of curves in a square. Foliations are produced all the time by dynamical systems. The
features of these foliations are key for things like mixing.
Equilibrium is fragile. Things can look stable for a long time and then suddenly fly off into some other territory. Most equilibriums are
not stable. Things can be almost imperceptibly changing, and eventually those changes start to add up, then things change really quickly. Things can
seem stable for a very long time, and then they go exponentially wrong.
For a lot of things involving human nature, historical trends, and climate, there's essentially no such thing as being in equilibrium.
2019 June 14
Brexit Britain: National Humiliation
Brexit Britain has been wallowing in a psychodrama of national humiliation. It's something Remainers and Leavers still share, even if they feel
mortified for different reasons.
Humiliation is calibrated against a sense of a status. If you're used to travelling business class, you may feel humiliated by
having to sit in economy; but if you've always sat in economy, it's normal.
When Britain was an aggressive imperial power, it was always on the lookout for intolerable slights to the national honour. But
this becomes ridiculous when you are no longer a great power.
Brexit depends on the idea that Britain cannot be an ordinary European country and that equality within the EU is inherently
humiliating. The EU traps a business-class country in economy class.
The word "humiliation" needs to be banished from the Brexit discourse. Acknowledging reality is not humiliating. Accepting
that you have made a mistake is not humiliating.
2019 June 13
European Union Presidents
Europe is picking a new batch of EU presidents. Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron renewed the vows of the Franco-German relationship in January by
signing the Aachen treaty in a hall where Holy Roman Emperors once held coronation banquets.
At a summit next week, the EU will start nominating new presidents for the European Commission, European Council, European Central Bank,
and European Parliament.
Merkel backs Manfred Weber for the Commission presidency. He led the recent European election campaign for the EPP, which lost seats but
still emerged as the biggest party. EU leaders may nominate Mark Rutte of the Netherlands or Leo Varadkar of Ireland.
Macron knows agreement between Berlin and Paris is essential for the European project to advance. Appointing a Commission president
requires a weighted majority of EU national leaders to nominate a candidate and a majority in the European Parliament to approve them.
The European Council president chairs EU summits and brokers deals. Contenders include Charles Michel of Belgium, Xavier Bettel of
Luxembourg, and Helle Thorning-Schmidt of Denmark.
A breakthrough ahead of the June 20 summit seems unlikely.
Boris Johnson: A Character Reference
Max Hastings, 2012
Boris Johnson is the most popular politician in Britain. The public love him.
I have known Boris more than 20 years. He worked for me as EU correspondent of the Daily Telegraph and then as a columnist when
I was the paper's editor, and I have seen plenty of him since. He is a magnificent journalist and showman.
Boris is a gold medal egomaniac. His chaotic public persona is not an act. He is also a far more ruthless, and frankly nastier, figure
than the public appreciates. He is not a man to believe in, to trust or respect, save as a superlative exhibitionist.
Boris yearns with a mad hunger to become prime minister.
Can Boris Be Trusted?
Highly accomplished. His brilliance on public display. A massive figure dominating the political stage. Boris Johnson has remodeled himself as a serious
He wants us to think he has metamorphosed, as the wayward Prince Hal of Shakespeare's plays did, into Henry V, poised to save his country
from the EU and rescue Brexit.
As to his period as foreign secretary, many mandarins speak of him with contempt. But despite the gaffes, the setbacks and the criticism,
he can claim achievements when in office. His supporters say he is not only the most talented but also the most accomplished candidate in the contest.
On top of all this, there is his charisma. It lends credibility to his claim he is the only candidate for the premiership capable of
navigating between the Scylla of Nigel Farage and the Charybdis of Jeremy Corbyn.
Behind the easy charm and effortless humour there lurks a giant brain. He is without a doubt one of the most intelligent politicians
I have met.
Boris Johnson undoubtedly has the ability to be prime minister. But can he be trusted?
2019 June 12
After three years and two missed deadlines, we must leave the EU on October 31. Delay means defeat. Delay means Corbyn. Kick the can and we kick the
We cannot ignore the morass at Westminster where parties have entered a yellow box junction, unable to move forward or back, while
around the country there is a mood of disillusion, even despair, at our ability to get things done.
The longer it goes on the worse the risk that there will be serious contamination and loss of confidence, because the people of this
country deserve the best from their leader.
In everything we do we will seek to strengthen the union of our four nations. that invincible quartet, the awesome foursome that
makes up the UK, the world's soft power superpower.
I have seen across the world in our armed forces, in our diplomacy, our sheer cultural impact, how we are so much more than the sum
of our parts.
Fully Automated Luxury Communism
We live in a world of crisis, of low growth, low productivity and low wages, poverty and inequality, climate breakdown and the failure of democracy.
But with imagination, we can look forward to a wonderful future.
The plummeting cost of information and advances in technology are enabling a future of freedom and luxury for all. Automation, robotics,
and machine learning can set us free from drudgery. Unemployment is only a problem if you think all work should be cherished.
Gene editing and sequencing can revolutionize medical practice. Hereditary diseases can be eliminated, and cancer cured. New technologies
can allow us to keep pace with the health challenges of societal aging.
Renewable energy can meet global energy needs and enable a shift away from fossil fuels. Asteroid mining can provide us with not only
more energy than we need but also more iron, gold, platinum, and nickel. Resource scarcity will be a thing of the past.
The consequences are potentially transformative. For technological unemployment, global poverty, societal aging, climate change, and
resource scarcity, we can see solutions.
Capitalism has created the new abundance. But it cannot distribute the fruits. A system where things are produced only for profit seeks
to ration resources to ensure returns. The result will be imposed scarcity, with not enough food, health care, or energy to go around.
For a better world, we have to go beyond capitalism. We will need a new politics, where technology serves people, not profit, where
we accept facts, not fantasies. We need fully automated luxury communism.
Two Planets and a Moon
Astronomers have discovered baby planets in the disks of gas and dust around young stars.
A star some 370 light years away called PDS 70, slightly smaller than the Sun and roughly 5 million years old, shows evidence of two
newborn planets. The planets are so young they are still growing. One of them is surrounded by its own swirling disk of gas and dust.
A planet called PDS 70b is orbiting inside the disk around the star and is emitting red and IR light as hot hydrogen falls in. A second
baby giant planet, PDS 70c, is still sucking up ambient hydrogen.
An empty band in the disk of PDS 70 starts from as far out as where Uranus orbits in our solar system and extends to about three times
that distance. PDS 70b orbits near the inner edge of this band gap. PDS 70c orbits near the outer edge in a 1:2 orbital resonance.
Separate measurements of the system show the light from PDS 70b includes more red light than expected. A disk of dusty stuff around the
planet absorbs heat, then reradiates it in IR wavelengths. In theoretical models, disks like these form moons.
"That is a country that
doesn't even believe in
economic or political
Rafael Behr (1:37)
"Hard Brexit is the drug
the Conservatives need to
wean themselves off."
"The price of greatness
Stephen Hawking and
James Hartle proposed
the universe has no
boundary and derived
a wave function of
D-Day: 75 years ago today
Zlatko Minev et al.
show quantum leaps
2019 June 11
Toxic Brexit High
A UK government minister predicts Boris Johnson will win the leadership contest, but his premiership will be brief: "The Tory party is on life support.
Boris is like a shot of morphine — they will feel great for a bit then realize it's killed them."
Whitehall civil servants are in a state of permanent revolution. A permanent secretary: "We have dealt with so much change already.
It's constant turbulence, which is unsettling for the civil service and destabilizing for the country."
AR My prescription: Go cold turkey. Ask the leadership candidates to discuss how they would end austerity. Don't even
mention the B-word. Let Theresa May, as her final duty, revoke Article 50. Then dump the whole disgusting B-mess into a deep pit.
2019 June 10
Banging On About Brexit
The Brexit approach of hardliners such as Boris Johnson recalls the fabled Briton abroad who believes if he shouts loudly enough, the foreigners will
eventually understand. Through sheer force of personality, we are told, they will be able to renegotiate the withdrawal deal. Should that prove
impossible, they will walk Britain off the plank on October 31.
Neither outcome is achievable. The EU27 have repeatedly declined to reopen the withdrawal agreement and its Irish backstop. The House
of Commons will vote against a no-deal Brexit.
Trying to force the issue would trigger a constitutional crisis. Talk of proroguing parliament is irresponsible. A prime minister
faced with such a crisis would have to call an election.
German politicians were outraged by images of Boris Johnson relaxing with the aristocrat Charles Spencer in cricket whites just after
the Brexit vote.
Bundespräsident und damals Außenminister Frank-Walter Steinmeier: ".. unverantwortliche Politiker, die
sich jetzt aus dem Staub machen und Cricket spielen gehen."
Electing Boris into 10 Downing Street could further strain relations between the UK and the EU.
SPD foreign affairs spokesman Nils Schmid: "It would be perceived as a sign that the UK is further distancing itself from Europe.
It would also be seen as a reward for the politician who did the most to create the illusions about Brexit."
Bundestag foreign affairs committee chair Norbert Röttgen: "Brexit has never been a matter of principle for [Boris]. It was
only ever a vehicle to become PM."
2019 June 9
The Great Reboot
Any sustainable future for Western civilization must involve a radical rethink of classical economics and democratic politics. Continuing the path that
we as a species on Earth have been following for decades will spell our certain doom before the century is out. We humans must learn to go beyond
the thinking that led to our planetary dominion and reconsider our deeper identity. We shall only master the crises we have precipitated if we
learn to identify with all life on Earth.
The salient problems of governance today, considered globally, for human life as a whole, can be packaged under three main themes:
▸ Our great economic challenge is to optimize resource allocation, which in human terms implies
reducing or managing inequalities of income or wealth.
▸ Our great ecological challenge is to optimize our environment, which implies finding ways to
reduce or manage climate change and species loss.
▸ Our great technological challenge is to find ways to deploy artificial intelligence and all its fruits,
if not optimally then at least so as not to orchestrate the emergence of artificial life in toxic or
hostile forms but instead to lead us toward a future where the remainder of the human journey
on Earth is lived out productively and pleasantly.
The interactions of these three challenges give rise to governance problems that will almost certainly overwhelm any foreseeable human
capacity to orchestrate effective solutions within the paradigms that presently constrain thinking in economics and politics.
We are used to seeing the reality around us as represented by a vast array of classical bits, embodied in physical things and so on.
The more general quantum view is that we are on a raft of bits floating in an ocean of qubits. The paradigm shift from classical to quantum
computation will lead to a great reboot of our governance models.
PDF, 10+ pages, in prep.
2019 June 8
The Greatest Generation
To honor the sacrifices of D-Day, we would do well to recall what the Allies fought for — not to save the United States or even Britain
(which by 1944 could not be beaten) but to liberate Europe; not to defeat an aggressive nation-state but to eradicate a despicable ideology;
not to enjoy the spoils as the victors but to lay the foundations of a just and enduring peace; not to subsume our values
under our interests but to define our interests according to our values.
A Mirror Universe?
Parity says everything should stay the same if the universe were flipped as in a mirror. In 1956, Tsung Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang proposed an experimental
test for parity violations. Chien-Shiung Wu ran the experiment and found parity was violated. Lee and Yang suggested that parity is
in fact conserved, and only appears to be violated because we are seeing only half the picture.
Over time, neutrons outside an atomic nucleus decay into electrons and protons via beta decay. For decades, we have been trying to measure
how long these free neutrons live before they decay.
We have two ways to measure the lifetime of a free neutron. The bottle experiment herds neutrons into a magnetic bottle trap, waits, and
counts how many neutrons are left. This method sets the average lifetime at 879 seconds. The beam experiment counts the number of protons from decaying
neutrons in a beam of neutrons. This method sets the neutron lifetime at 888 s.
The discrepancy is unexplained, but a mirror world could explain it. Perhaps neutrons oscillate back and forth between the two worlds. If
1 in 100 neutrons swap into the mirror world before emitting a proton, this can explain the longer measured neutron lifetime in the beam experiments.
Many other puzzles can be explained using the same model. The mirror world could even provide a haven for dark matter and explain why it
is so difficult to find. A mirror sector will not interact with us via the electromagnetic, strong, and weak forces, but only via gravity.
To be consistent with our models of cosmic evolution, the mirror sector must have been much cooler than our own. This would have let more
particles move into it. The mirror models suggest five mirror particles for every regular particle, the same as our estimates of the ratio of dark to
Even if we do find mirror neutrons, a lot of work remains to make them a fit for dark matter.
2019 June 7
Conservative leadership candidate and former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab says he would consider proroguing parliament — ending the session
— to prevent MPs forcing the government into another delay. Such a move would require the prime minister to go to Buckingham Palace to seek
the Queen's permission.
Conservative leadership candidate and current health secretary Matt Hancock: "To suspend parliament explicitly to pursue a course of
action against its wishes is not a serious policy of a prime minister in the 21st century. What kind of message would this send around the world
about our values when so many have given so much for the rights of democratic freedom?"
2019 June 6
Asimina Arvanitaki is interested in hypothetical particles called axions. Some versions of string theory operate in 10 dimensions. The 6 beyond those
we know must be scrunched up, which may give rise to axions in what she calls a string axiverse.
Black hole superradiance could enable us to detect axions. If you fire a photon at a spinning black hole, it will pull energy and
angular momentum from the hole. If you do the same thing with an axion, gravity confines it to the vicinity of the black hole, almost as if the
axion is stuck between the black hole and a spherical mirror.
Eventually the amplification becomes exponential, says Arvanitaki. Such superradiance would create a huge cloud of axions arranged in
shells, like atomic orbitals on a huge scale. Their wavelength must match the black hole circumference, but wavelength is inversely proportional
to mass, and axions have extremely low mass.
These axion clouds could reveal themselves in gravitational waves. Axions colliding in the cloud should annihilate into gravitons.
Arvanitaki says axions and black holes might form gravitational beacons. She is working with
AR On LIGO, see also blog 2018-06-23.
Researchers built a superconducting electrical circuit with quantum behavior like an atom with three energy levels: the ground state, a bright state,
and a dark state.
When they fired a beam of microwaves at the system, the atom usually bounced rapidly between the ground state and the bright state,
emitting a photon every time it jumped from bright to ground. But if it absorbed a photon from the beam, it would leap into the dark state.
The researchers could tell when a quantum jump had started by looking for a flash of light from the bright state followed by a lull
as the atom leapt into the dark state. On timescales of a few microseconds, they could predict when the next jump would occur.
If, just after the jump had started, they hit the atom with an electrical pulse, they could send the atom back to the ground state.
The leaps took the same path between the two energy levels every time, so it was easy to predict how to bounce them back.
The quantum leaps took about 4 μs.
AR This could be important.
⦿ Dominic Lipinski
"Nigel Farage is a friend of
mine, Boris is a friend of mine.
They are two very good guys,
very interesting people."
"A new prime minister should
sit down with the new EU
commissioner on 1 November
and negotiate a new deal."
⦿ SOPA Images/LightRocket
Sophia is an AI
2019 June 5
Existential Security Risk
National Centre for Climate Restoration
Climate change now represents an existential threat to human civilization. A new approach to climate-related security risk management is thus required.
A 2050 scenario is outlined.
To sustain human civilization, it is essential to build a zero-emissions industrial system very quickly. This requires a global
mobilization of resources, akin to a wartime level of response.
Breakthrough policy paper (PDF, 11 pages, 426 KB)
Tories in Deep Peril
Rishi Sunak, Robert Jenrick, Oliver Dowden
We are in deep peril. The Conservative party is facing an existential threat.
We face Nigel Farage and his Brexit party, on one hand, and Jeremy Corbyn on the other. We must fight for the future of the country.
The three of us believe the dangers that face our nation and our party are too grave and too imminent to take a chance. We believe there
really is only one logical answer: Boris Johnson.
The first task of our next prime minister will be to deliver on the Referendum result. Boris commands the instant credibility needed to
achieve support for a renegotiated deal. He is a proven winner and leader with a record of achievement.
These are not normal times.
AR They must be desperate.
2019 June 4
State Banquet Speech
Queen Elizabeth II
I am delighted to welcome [Donald and Melania] Trump to Buckingham Palace this evening .. Visits by American presidents always remind us of the close
and longstanding friendship between the United Kingdom and the United States.
After the shared sacrifices of the Second World War, Britain and the United States worked with other allies to build an assembly of
international institutions, to ensure that the horrors of conflict would never be repeated. While the world has changed, we are forever mindful
of the original purpose of these structures: nations working together to safeguard a hard-won peace.
Tonight, we celebrate an alliance that has helped to ensure the safety and prosperity of both our peoples for decades, and which I
believe will endure for many years to come.
In 1952, Stalin made a peace offer to America, France, and Britain. He proposed to unify Germany and suggested that a neutral Germany might also have
free elections. But West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer refused.
Adenauer decided West Germany's survival required it to be bound tightly to the other nations of the West, so he rejected the Soviet
offer of unification. Europeans created a series of Western institutions and learned to share sovereignty. Growth and industrialization were
accompanied by a parallel growth in social benefits, and economic success inspired a cultural explosion.
By contrast, the history of Eastern Europe was one of failure. Economically, the East also recovered and rebuilt, but much more slowly
and much less completely. By the 1970s, the myth of Europe was strong enough to lure Spain, Portugal, and Greece away from dictatorship, toward
democracy, and into European institutions, and even to persuade the UK to join the European Economic Community. And it was powerful enough to send
the iron curtain crashing down for good in 1989.
Over a mere couple of decades, 90 million people accepted civilian control over the army, the establishment of an independent judiciary,
laws on human rights, and a host of economic regulations. The new member states all agreed that to reestablish their national sovereignty, they
would have to surrender some of that sovereignty to European institutions.
Belief in Western economic superiority was shattered by the financial crisis of 2008−2009. Europe survived it, but the economic
crisis was followed by further blows. Russia modernized its military and made flagrant attempts to manipulate European politics. A wave of terror
attacks caused a backlash against Muslim immigration. After the influx of refugees in 2015, the backlash intensified.
The result has been a rise in both antidemocratic and anti-European political parties all across the continent. They all share an
anti-establishment rhetoric that is often profoundly cynical. But it is effective, thanks both to growing fears of instability as well as new
tools of social media that favor emotional and angry language over calm and reasoned debate.
Doubts about European values threaten to undo Adenauer's decision to choose integration. Nobody now in political office has any
real memory of World War II. The European story could go awry.
2019 June 3
Trump Is Divisive
US president Donald Trump called former UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson "very talented" and said: "I think Boris would do a very good job.
I think he would be excellent. I have always liked him."
Former UK ambassador to the US Sir Christopher Meyer: "Trump has smashed one of the most sacred conventions of diplomacy, that
a head of state does not interfere in the internal affairs of the country which he or she is visiting. Trump needs to be very careful."
Britain Is Divided
The debate about Brexit is hardening. Compromise options seem to have been killed off by the 23 May vote, leaving no deal or revoking Article 50
as the only options.
Among the prime movers of the rising no-deal movement, there is a misanthropy encompassing not just age-old biases and bigotries but
the idea that each and every advocate of a rethink on Brexit is a citizen of nowhere, and a traitor to boot.
What has driven our fragmentation is winner-takes-all economics, the stalling of social mobility, and online discourse that has no
room for restraint or compromise. Too many people understand little about the country they call home.
Brexiteers boast of splendid isolation, the glories of the second world war, and the wonders of empire, yet avert their eyes from the
island of Ireland. Remainers continue to deny the great mess of stuff that sat behind the Brexit vote.
Two big dangers face the UK now. One is a reckless Brexit pursued at any cost. The other is a tribal war that pushes us so far away
from history, humanity, and economics that politics is pointless.
2019 June 2
Go 4 No Deal Brexit
Get it done. Get the deal closed. I would walk away. If you don't get the deal you want, if you don't get a fair deal, then you walk away. I wouldn't pay
$50 billion. That is me. I would not pay. That is a tremendous number.
What I would do is, for those mistakes made by the EU that cost the UK a lot of money and a lot of harm, I would have put that on the table,
whether it is in the form of litigation or in the form of a request. But they chose not to do that. It's very hard for the UK to get a good deal when
they go into the negotiation that way.
We have the potential to be an incredible trade partner with the UK. We have tremendous potential to make up more than the difference. We
will be talking to them about that. One of the advantages of Brexit is the fact that now you can deal with the #1 economy in the world by far.
Go 4 Bo
Mail on Sunday
Our poll shows:
— Voters are now less concerned about the effects of a hard Brexit
— Voters see Boris Johnson as likeable, competent, and trustworthy
— His stance on Brexit boosts his chance of becoming prime minister
No 2 No
The Brexit puzzle:
— We are not leaving on 31 October with a deal
— Parliament will block a no-deal Brexit
— There is no time to do a revised deal
2019 June 1
Writing an AI Constitution
An Edge Conversation
◼ Stephen Wolfram:
As soon as you have a system whose behavior is not obviously simple, you end up getting something that is as sophisticated computationally
as it can be, which means it's a universal computer. I call this the principle of computational equivalence.
But we can't automate the deciding of what we want to do. In human language, we come up with particular kinds of abstractions that are
based on things that are common in our world. Human language has this feature that takes thoughts in our brains and tries to make some simplified
symbolic representation of those thoughts that can then be communicated to another brain that will unpack them and do something with them.
When people make contracts with each other, they write those contracts in human language. If one can make a computational language that
can represent things in the world richly enough to be able to talk about the kinds of things that are in contracts, then you have a different story
about how you can create things like contracts. You can write a constitution for your AIs.
◼ David Chalmers:
You come up against theorems in social choice theory. If we break it down into ten separate issues, say, we see there's a majority that
prefers A and there's a majority that prefers if A then B, but there's not a majority that prefers B. You can't just go with democracy on every
component, and then suddenly use a system for extrapolating from all these individual preferences. You need to find ways to make the tradeoffs.
This whole thing of turning morality into code is not a new problem. The legal code and the political code have been trying to
formalize this for centuries. The only way to do it is via a huge mess. So, I predict that once you try and turn it into AI code, it's
going to be a mess as well.
AR To see an example of the inapplicability of modus ponens in contemporary political praxis, set
A = Leave and B = Hard. A mess indeed.
⦿ Universum Film GmbH
The New Yorker
Made with a budget of $47 million, the TV series Babylon Berlin is adapted from the best-selling novels by Volker Kutscher,
and is set in the Berlin of 1929, in the twilight of the Weimar Republic.
The story follows police inspector Gereon Rath, who arrives in Berlin seeking to forget his traumatic wartime experiences.
His unlikely partner is aspiring homicide detective Charlotte Ritter, eager to escape the hardships of her proletarian family
home. Gereon and Lotte soon discover conspiracies and intrigue on a shocking scale. Among the rich ensemble of characters
and story lines are a hijacked freight train, police factions, Soviet agents, organized crime, Communist revolutionaries,
and aristocratic reactionaries.
Part period drama, part police procedural, and part mystery thriller, the show always has an undercurrent of foreboding.
AR I watched all 16 episodes of series 1 and 2 (Blu-ray, in German) and found it utterly captivating.
This is a complex, often disturbing, sometimes shocking, and apparently quite realistic dramatic reconstruction of an
extraordinary milieu that was quite unprecedented in modern history. If any media production from our time deserves
to become a classic of insightful recreation of a pivotal period of history, this series does.
I guess it will eventually be dubbed in English.
Zu Asche, Zu Staub
Latest UK Poll
R ≃ 51%
L ≃ 41%
By Jim Al-Khalili
My Amazon review
Boris 4 Jail?
Boris Johnson will appear
in court, charged with
lying to the public
3 Brexit scenarios
Next UK Prime Minister
Top Five candidates
by Tory MP pledges:
Brexit: Pro vs Anti
⦿ PA / BBC
* LD, Green, SNP, CUK, PC
** Brexit, UKIP
2019 May 31
The European Union has to prove its vitality every day. Four countries among 28 are now part of the G8. In 2050, only Germany will be. If we want to be
at the table, to promote our values, to take part in negotiations, we have to remain together.
The EU is a way to create more sovereignty and more power in those fields where our nations have lost power. We have to see the world as
it is, not as it was. Speaking with one voice on issues of trade or competition makes us a global actor.
The more the economy is global, the more people need to be reassured that their roots will be respected. This is why the EU is so complex.
We don't want to become one nation or one people. There is no ambition to build a distinct and homogeneous federal state.
The reasons for Brexit run deep. We have to respect popular sentiment in Britain, the hope for a return to a powerful global Britain,
nostalgia for the past. But there were also people voting for Brexit who simply don't want to accept rules. Some based in the City of London voted to
leave, as they don't want to accept EU regulations on their trading.
Finally, and most importantly, there are many people who feel abandoned. They feel that the quality of public services, healthcare,
transport, is worsening. We must listen to them.
There are three options: a deal based on the agreement finalized six months ago, withdrawal without a deal, or no Brexit. It will have
to be the choice of the UK. Even if we regret their decision profoundly, it is their sovereign decision and we have to respect it.
Today the UK and Ireland are part of the same single market, the same customs union. Cooperation between both countries in Northern
Ireland is based on the Good Friday Agreement. The EU supported the peace process by providing funding and the economic boost from borderless trade,
but also because of the rights that it granted people on both sides as European citizens.
The single market is not a supermarket. Freedom of movement for goods, services, capital, and people are fundamental. The EU is not
only an economic project but also a political project.
We want the UK to remain our partner, friend, and ally.
Nigel Farage plans to lead an assault on Westminster and the parties failing to deliver Brexit.
The UK is bitterly divided. Its traditional two-party political system is cracking up. Conservative and Labour politicians are in panic
mode as voters switch to parties that offer a clear alternative: Leave (L) or Remain (R).
The European elections gutted the center. The L parties (Brexit and UKIP) polled 35% with their demand to leave the EU now. The R parties
(Lib Dems, Greens, Scottish and Welsh nationalists, Change UK) polled 40%.
Willingness to deliver a "no-deal Brexit" has become the test for any aspiring Conservative leader. But any UK prime minister who defies
MPs risks chaos. So, a general election or a second referendum.
Conservatives will not hold a general election with Brexit unresolved. Revoking Article 50 and abandoning Brexit is unthinkable, MPs will
not accept a compromise deal, and parliament will block a no-deal Brexit.
A second referendum would probably ask: Leave without a deal or Remain. Conservatives would fight alongside Farage as the hard L party.
Labour would be an R party, alongside Lib Dems and others.
In the struggle of L against R, the Westminster center cannot hold.
AR Conservatives — smell the coffee and go for R.
2019 May 30
Fizzy Quantum Foam
The expansion of the universe may be accelerating because quantum fizz makes space foam up.
The vacuum catastrophe is the problem that most theories predict a wildly high value of the cosmological constant. Qingdi Wang and
William Unruh (WU) offer a model to solve the problem.
John Wheeler said the universe is foamy at the Planck scale. In the WU model, the vacuum energy is constantly fluctuating as each point
in space expands and contracts like a tiny cyclic universe. The bubble universes bounce from contracting to expanding, and vacuum energy pumps up a
bubble slightly with each bounce.
As the bubbles fizz, the universe as a whole expands. On a macro scale, we see a smooth universe accelerating outward. The fizz is
far too fine to see, but it solves the vacuum catastrophe.
The model does not yet describe the bounces and is not yet squared with general relativity.
AR Bill Unruh was a Wheeler grad student, like Dick Feynman.
2019 May 29
"If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.
[But] we are unable to reach that judgment."
Robert S. Mueller III
Nigel Farage, Public Enemy #1
Nigel Farage is a dangerous demagogue. His Brexit party won nearly a third of the British vote in the European Parliament elections.
Thanks to his success, there is enormous pressure on the Conservatives to deliver Brexit in October, deal or no deal. The Brexit party
has no members and no manifesto, and none of its candidates were democratically selected. It offered only one policy: a no-deal Brexit. Its rallies
are star shows by Farage, who talks about sovereignty lost to Europe, unfairness and immigration.
Farage made his money as a City trader. He is the Gordon Gekko of British politics. He opposes anything that inconveniences his nouveau
riche confederates. If he had his way, many of his supporters would be working harder, longer, for less money, with less protection. He hates the
EU because its moderate social legislation and free movement defy his social Darwinism.
Farage has spotted an opportunity, a new political model. Dropping his previous vehicle UKIP, a traditional membership party, Farage
launched something like a venture capitalist start-up, with crowd-funders rather than members, and a chief executive rather than a leader.
His Brexit party won the battle for clicks and made a killing in the election.
Matt Hancock 4 PM
UK health secretary Matt Hancock: "To the people who say fuck business, I say fuck fuck business."
Aged 40, Hancock is the youngest contender to succeed Theresa May. He first entered parliament in 2010. He said he would not pursue a
no-deal Brexit: "The brutal reality is, no deal is not a policy choice available to the next prime minister."
On a second referendum: "I'm a democrat and we follow the results of votes in this country."
Bollocks 2 Brexit
UK statistics from the European election results suggest Remain would have won easily if this had been a proxy referendum on UK membership in the EU.
If the Leave and Remain bloc totals were presented as a binary choice in a second referendum, the result would have been:
In total, the Remain bloc won 9.3 million votes, the Leave bloc 7 million. The results are consistent with the tracking polls taken
by YouGov since the 2016 Brexit referendum.
A majority of Brits think Brexit was the wrong decision.
2019 May 28
In Britain and America, a deep crisis of conservatism has been building since the end of the Reagan and Thatcher governments. Transatlantic conservatism
as we have known it may be dying.
In the UK, Conservative party membership has been dwindling for decades. Last year, it was down to 124,000, with an average age of 57.
Under Reagan and Thatcher, conservatives promoted a Darwinian but inclusive capitalism to keep the economy evolving while also preserving
the social fabric. Yet the economic benefits of this model have dwindled, while its social costs have increasingly hit naturally conservative groups.
The rise of populists such as Donald Trump and Nigel Farage convinced many people that populism is the new incarnation of conservatism. But
its electoral success may be a sign of conservative decay rather than renewal. Trump and Farage depend even more than traditional conservatives on white
male rage against a changing world.
Following the end of the Cold War, Conservatism became a faith. Any failures by the right were blamed on a lack of belief.
British conservatives found a scapegoat. The European Union was pro-business, and the European single market had been partly Thatcher's
creation. But the EU was a rival power center. It saw politics as about compromise rather than conviction and was relatively liberal in its social
and cultural values. As a new enemy for conservatives, it proved irresistible.
Euroscepticism gave British conservatism new energy. Boris Johnson took malicious glee in distorting his accounts of EU activities. But
there was a cost. Much of the movement lost interest in facts.
The logical conclusion of the politics of minimal facts and maximum conviction was the Brexit referendum. When Trump also won after a
campaign even more based on magical thinking, it seemed that conservative populism had prospects.
Conservatives are going to have to address the climate emergency, the collapse of confidence in capitalism, and the rise of inequality
to explosive levels. The conservatism of Trump and Farage offers no lasting solutions.
UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt says it will be political suicide for the Conservative party to push for the UK to leave the EU with no deal in October:
"I'm worried [that] it could lead to the destruction of our party system and the end of my own party."
UK international development secretary Rory Stewart: "I've negotiated in Iraq and in Afghanistan and the lesson I've taken from that is
the key thing is to get agreement on what shared future you want together."
AR Farage offers no future.
2019 May 27
European Elections 2019
The New European Parliament
The citizens of 28 EU member states have elected a new European Parliament. The centre-right European People's party and centre-left Socialists and
Democrats look set to lose their combined majority for the first time, but they remain the two biggest parties. What they lost, liberal and green
groups have gained: Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and European Greens/European Free Alliance saw a big increase in seats. European
Conservatives and Reformists will likely lose a few seats, while Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy will make gains. Europe of Nations and
Freedom on the far right made the biggest gains so far, propelled by the results in Italy and France.
Live results from 28 member states
Targeting UK Democracy
Brexit party leader Nigel Farage claims victory, but Brexit is no longer his principal concern. His new analysis is that British democracy does not work
and does not even exist. Every organ of the state and political life is malign and works against the interests of the people.
The Americanization of British politics it is already here: the tenor of the rallies, the rhetoric from the stage, the way party messages
are communicated. Bitterness, anger, contempt — the crowd is united in believing the establishment is out to screw them.
Like Donald Trump, Farage represents salvation: that someone finally listens and understands. The UK has imported a culture war where the
two sides have no conception of how the other conceives the world around them.
Results so far for the UK
Northern Ireland (3 MEPs) has yet to report.
AR The UK is the EU member most infected by separatism.
⦿ JOEL SAGET / AFP
EU wide turnout over 50%
⦿ Saul Loeb
Eurovision Song Contest
The scores (blog May 19)
have been corrected: The
Netherlands' winning score
goes up to 498, the UK's
losing score goes down
2019 May 26
European Elections 2019
2345 SW England: Brexit 3, Lib Dem 2, Green 1
2304 London: Lib Dem 3, Brexit 2, Labour 2, Green 1
2217 Lib Dems hold Gibraltar.
Cold War 2
Cold War 2 began when Donald Trump imposed the first tariffs on Chinese imports last year. Peace will not break out when Trump meets Xi Jinping at the
G20 summit in Osaka next month. The escalation of antagonism is like the early phase of the Cold War 1.
But 2019 isn't 1949. The profound entanglement of America and China is quite unlike the almost total separation of the United States from
the Soviet Union 70 years ago. The networked world forged by decades of commercial aviation, global markets for commodities, manufactures, labor,
capital, and above all the internet is new.
The Thirty Years War (1618−1638) was a time of terrorism and gruesome violence, with no clear distinction between soldiers and
civilians. The worst-affected areas suffered death and depopulation. States underestimated the costs of getting involved in the conflict. Both
Britain and France did so, only to slide into civil war.
The implications of this analogy are not cheering. Thanks to technology, most things happen roughly 10 times faster than they did 400
years ago. We may be heading for a Three Years War.
The 1648 Peace of Westphalia established power-sharing arrangements between the Holy Roman Emperor and the German princes, as well as
between the rival religious groups, on the basis of limited and conditional rights. The peace was underpinned by mutual guarantees.
The Cold War ended when one side folded. That will not happen in our time.
2019 May 25
Ratting On Brexit
They said the job couldn't be done
They said she couldn't do it
She took the job that couldn't be done
And .. she couldn't do it
Somebody has to square with the British people. It is about Remain or Leave.
Boris is a rascal. Casual disregard for the truth, reckless caprice, lazy disregard for detail, weak negotiating skills, moral
turpitude, and failure as foreign secretary. But he might be capable of ratting on his promise to take us out of the EU and getting away with it.
A prime minister intent on Brexit could thwart parliament. This would be nuclear, a coup against representative democracy, a breach of
the unwritten constitution, a descent into infamy. After the amputation, gangrene would infect the rump UK.
But it might not end in calamity. He might tell us that this Brexit business has got into such a toxic muddle that we need to rip
it up and start again — revoke Article 50 and refer back to the people.
2019 May 24
The End of May
Theresa May has resigned. A new prime minister will take over by the end of July. May will step down as Conservative leader on June 7 and stay on at
10 Downing Street until a new leader is elected.
"It will be for my successor to seek a way forward that honours the result of the referendum. To succeed, he or she will have to find
consensus in parliament where I have not. Such a consensus can only be reached if those on all sides of the debate are willing to compromise."
AR And another one down. When will they ever learn? Love EU and live or leave EU and die.
It seems likely that the next occupant of No 10 will be a full-throated Brexiteer. MPs will cut down the candidate list to two,
but the Conservative membership will decide the ultimate victor. Polls suggest Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab will win.
Both have already suggested they will pledge to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement with Brussels. They will say a new prime minister
ready to play hardball, will force Brussels to back down. The reality is that Brussels will not change its fundamental red lines.
Assuming a hard Brexiteer is elected, the new prime minister faces the same parliamentary arithmetic as before. One option would be to
disregard parliament altogether. The law will take the UK out of the EU on October 31 unless they act to stop it.
A future PM could prorogue parliament until D-Day had passed. That would be a nuclear option. The second option would be to behave so
badly in Brussels that the EU27 decides to kick Britain out regardless of what parliament wants.
Calling a snap election would be a high-stakes strategy and deeply unappealing to Conservative MPs. Johnson is rumoured in Westminster
to have been mooting a second referendum, a straight choice between no deal and Remain.
Get ready for the hurricane.
Boris Johnson is on course to become prime minister unless he blunders spectacularly. It could even be a coronation.
The big question is whether Johnson can reverse out of the ideological corner in which he has parked himself. Saying "Fuck business"
was monumentally foolish. Siding with the Leave campaign because his rival backed Remain, and then failing for two and a half years to come up with
a plan for what leaving the EU would involve, was monstrously irresponsible. Yet his opportunism makes him capable of reinvention.
Johnson will be faced with a choice. Either he could take the UK out of the EU and into WTO rules, which would be economically
catastrophic, or he could admit that there are only two ways out of the deadlock: a second referendum or a general election.
The Conservative party membership still adores Boris. But selecting him would be a huge gamble.
Man of Destiny
Britain now faces the real prospect of Boris Johnson moving into 10 Downing Street. He would do so as the country faces its gravest crisis since WW2.
He would have been chosen by a poll of 120-odd thousand Conservative party members.
Johnson would be the least qualified prime minister of modern times. His only ministerial experience consists of two dire years as foreign
secretary. He is also spectacularly lacking in the moral qualifications required to lead the country.
Johnson is adored by the Tory grass roots and he is the one contender who can outdo Nigel Farage on demagoguery. But he is divisive.
A recent poll showed 28% of the public thought he would make a good prime minister, but 54% thought he would make a bad one.
Johnson is abhorred in the EU, which he once compared to the Third Reich. There is no way they would concede to his demands. It is
doubtful they would even agree to reopen negotiations, let alone extend the Article 50 deadline once more.
He could call a general election and then lose it. Defeat would almost certainly mean the end of Brexit. Johnson could be
Donald Trump promises to make America great again. Centrist Democrats are scandalized that Trump ever called its greatness into question. The American
left draws its inspiration from a narrative that is no less patriotic and nationalistic than that of its opponents.
Perhaps the embrace of the national narrative is doing Americans a disservice. It may turn out that the historical significance of the
Trump crisis is to immunize an entire generation against any form of celebratory American exceptionalism. Yet Trump's victory can be seen as a
harbinger of a broader wave of nationalist populism around the world.
Supporters of a roughnecked illiberal democracy express comprehensive revulsion toward Davos technocratic liberalism. With good reason
the gilets jaunes and many of those who voted for Brexit imagine that the governing class regards them with disdain. Their reaction is a
truculent reassertion of popular sovereignty.
There is an alarming rise in authoritarian attitudes, even among younger Europeans and Americans. Support for strongmen and military
leadership is increasingly prevalent among those in their twenties. The United States, far from being a democratic exception, fits squarely in
this mold, with high levels of support for authoritarian rule.
Democracies are fragile because they depend on competing parties accepting common norms. Norms are essential because without them,
constitutional checks and balances do not serve as the bulwarks of democracy. America's political system at this moment is under threat.
To transform itself, America may need to experience a catastrophe similar to that of Germany in WW2. The reformation of the German CDU
after 1945 made a crucial contribution to the success of democracy in postwar Germany. But it took the absolute defeat of Hitler's regime in 1945
to set the conditions for the reconstruction of German conservatism.
Democracy is likely to die not with a bang but with a whimper. It lacks a means to address the challenge of mounting inequality and
offers no escape from the mindless operation of bureaucratic and technological power. Meritocratic authoritarianism is finding defenders among
anodyne professors of political science.
Some problems are too hard to solve in any reasonable amount of time. But their solutions are easy to check. The class of problems that are hard to
solve but easy to verify is called NP, for nondeterministic polynomial time.
In 1985, it was proved that you can verify a solution to a problem by repeatedly probing the prover about the solution to problems
that are beyond NP. The new class of problems was called IP, for interactive polynomial time.
In 1988, it was proved that if you ask two computers to solve the same problem separately and then interrogate them separately about
their answers, you can verify a class of problems called MIP, for multi-prover interactive proofs. In NP, the size of verifiable problems grows
at a linear rate. But in MIP, it grows exponentially.
In a new paper, John Wright and Anand Natarajan (NW) show how to use quantum computers to check answers to problems of even higher
complexity. They consider a scenario involving two separate quantum computers that share entangled qubits. The class of problems they consider
is called NEEXP, for nondeterministic doubly exponential time.
NW show how to verify a solution by making the provers interrogate their own solutions using entangled states as a shared resource
to generate connected questions. Two quantum computers make complementary measurements, limited by the uncertainty principle, and entanglement
allows them to generate correlated questions, but the uncertainty principle prevents them from colluding when answering them.
Before NW, there was a much lower limit on our hard knowledge. If we were presented with an answer to a problem in NEEXP, we had to
take it on faith. Now we can verify it.
⦿ Dorset for Europe
Proportional Voting for the European Parliament
England, Scotland and Wales: Illustrative Example
Imagine 5 parties contesting 5 seats in a region. If the Brexit party has the most votes,
the first MEP seat goes to the candidate at the top of the Brexit party list (see table).
The number of votes for the Brexit party is divided by 2 (its number of seats + 1).
The Lib Dem party now has the most votes, so the second seat goes to the top Lib Dem candidate.
The number of Lib Dem votes is divided by 2 (= 1 + 1), so the third seat goes to the Brexit party,
which now has 50 votes, the highest number. The seat goes to the second person on the party list.
The original number of votes for the Brexit party is divided by 3 (= 2 + 1).
Lib Dems and the Greens both have 40 votes and win the fourth and fifth seats.
One seat goes to the second Lib Dem candidate and one to the top name on the Green list.
Votes step 1
Votes step 2
100/2 = 50
Votes step 3
80/2 = 40
Votes step 4
100/3 = 33
UK Seats in the European Parliament
The UK is divided into 12 electoral regions: 9 in England, 1 each for Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
The contesting parties each submit a list of candidates to voters in each region. In all there are 73 UK MEPs.
The SW Region of England (including BCP and Gibraltar) elects 6 MEPs.
(Best for Britain, May 19, sample size 9,260)
National Vote Share
Brexit 34%, Lib Dem 17%, Labour 15%, Conservative 11%, Change UK 9%, Green 4%, other 10%
SW Region Vote Share
Brexit 42%, Lib Dem 20%, Green 12%, Conservative 9%, Labour 8%, Change UK 4%, other 5%
SW Region: Tactical voting to stop Brexit
If 1.5 million people vote (30% turnout), projected results are (in thousands, rounded)
In this case, Lib Dems only need 20k more votes to change the result to: Brexit 3, Lib Dem 2, Green 1
★ Tactical advice: Vote Lib Dem ★
Click for printable A4 page
May 9, 2019
By Chris Bernardt
My Amazon review
⦿ Ronen Zvulun
Duncan Laurence sings
A Horror Story
Among the Dead Cities
By A.C. Grayling
My Amazon review
The Essence and
Value of Democracy
2019-04-04 — 2019-09-22
2019 May 22
A Speech to Europe 2019
The European story is a nice story that there were small European nation states who in their nice little way realized that economic interests united them.
The history of the 20th century is that European powers, which for the previous 500 years had dominated the world, found themselves forced to pull
back to Europe, and there created something new.
The European Union is a new thing.
We have to remember the Holocaust. It was an event on a scale that defies national memory. It had three basic causes: ecological panic,
dehumanization, and state destruction. The Jews were blamed by Hitler for believing that science might provide us all with answers for the ecological
crisis and for claiming that humans should recognize other humans according to a principle of solidarity.
You Europeans have disempowered yourselves by getting your past wrong. Look at the United States of America. Its current predicament is
a direct result of our getting its imperial past wrong. You are not far away from us, but you still have a chance to see that the EU is the one
successful answer to the most important question in the history of the modern world.
You have created a huge zone of exception. You have created the largest economy in the history of the world, in a series
of contiguous functioning welfare states and democracies. There is nothing like this anywhere else in the world. Outside the EU, there is still
Ecological panic is all around us, most obviously in the form of global warming. The people who tell us that global warming is not a
problem are the same people who tell us that the refugees and migrants are our enemies, and that some races are different than others.
The EU strengthens the European state. The debate about sovereignty makes no sense. The EU makes European states stronger internally
by supporting the welfare state. The EU protects them externally because it is the most powerful buffer in the world against the forces of
Think about the Holocaust. Jews were sent to Treblinka because the food they consumed was judged to be worth more than the work they
produced. This is an artifact of the industrial world, judging us just as objects who do physical work. The human rights tradition answers that
each of us is an irreducibly different human being.
Today, human rights are challenged in a different way. The digital world reduces us to our most predictable and simplest responses.
It turns us into caricatures of ourselves, into instruments of faraway commercial and political entities.
Unlike any other entity in the world, the EU has made progress toward digital human rights. The EU can protect humanity by resisting
the monopoly of big American companies, by resisting the digitization of education, and by letting journalists expose more facts.
Memory can go into reassuring myth or into history. You Europeans ran the world for half a millennium, created something new in the
second half of the 20th century, and now bear particular responsibility for how things turn out in the 21st. In the questions of ecological panic,
state destruction, and dehumanization, the EU has more power than any other entity on Earth. The history will lead to pain, but it will also
lead to power.
UN Report: UK Workhouses
UN rapporteur on extreme poverty Philip Alston compares Conservative welfare policies to the creation of 19th-century workhouses and warns that unless
austerity is ended, the UK's poorest people face lives that are "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short".
In his final report, he accuses UK government ministers of imposing policies since 2010 that have led to the systematic immiseration of
a significant part of the population and warns that worse could be yet to come for the most vulnerable if Brexit proceeds.
AR The UK establishment looks after its own. The rest can fend for themselves. Social solidarity has failed in the UK.
Brexit offers a smokescreen for the immiseration of the working poor, who in an age of increasing automation will soon be redundant
anyway. Welfare cuts will cull the "useless eaters" [nutzlose Fresser] and prepare the way for more drastic social engineering.
The UK establishment can change — or be changed.
2019 May 21
A Dog's Breakfast
Theresa May was monstered from all sides tonight after she offered a vote on a second referendum
in a last push to deliver her Brexit bill.
The PM made an emotional plea for MPs to get on board with her "bold" package:
▸ Tried to reassure Brexiteers by saying the government is still seeking alternative arrangements
to avoid the Irish backstop
▸ Told Labour MPs she would seek legal guarantees that workers' protections will be just as good
in the UK as in the EU
▸ Said MPs will be able to decide between a temporary customs union with the EU and the
government's customs proposals
May: "If MPs vote against the second reading of this bill, they are voting to stop Brexit."
A Unity Alliance
A "bold and ambitious" alliance combining Liberal Democrats, Christchurch Independents Group, Poole People's Party, Labour, Greens, and
other independents is now at the helm of the £700 million Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole (BCP) council.
The Unity Alliance was elected at the first full council meeting at Bournemouth University on Tuesday night. The new leader is
Poole Lib Dem councillor Vikki Slade.
AR At least I exchanged a few friendly words with Vikki last Tuesday at a hustings for SW region European parliamentary
election candidates to present themselves.
2019 May 20
Islam and the West
For three centuries, the Ottoman empire was the unsettling Other to Western Europe. Western thinkers used what they knew about Islam and its world to
make their points.
Westerners praised the discipline of Ottoman armies, the visible piety of Muslim citizens, and the orderliness of Levantine
households in order to reproach their own societies. They deplored Ottoman tyranny and cruelty, praised Ottoman discipline and efficiency, magnified
the Ottoman threat, or predicted the collapse of the empire, as it suited them.
Polemicists in the Byzantine empire had viewed Islam as a distorted form of Christianity, a heresy. In the medieval West, Muslims were
simply infidels, like pagans or idolaters, and Muhammad was seen as an ambitious fraud. But as confidence in claims to supernatural revelation
weakened, there was a gradual recognition that any claim to an authority based on revelation could be seen as fraud.
Western writers described Ottoman polity as despotic. In contrast to Western monarchies, the Ottoman sovereign was not embedded in a
complex of subsidiary jurisdictions or bound by feudal reciprocities. Just as the Muslim religious world presented an austere landscape purged of
the clutter of saints, sacraments, and priests, so the Muslim political environment offered a starker picture.
This could be set out as a condemnation of Ottoman polity. It could also be seen as a more positive pattern for the modernising trends
in Western monarchies. Just as a Unitarian rejecting the Christian Trinity might see Islam as an early template for doctrinal reform, a political
theorist might consider the Sultan as the single source of legitimacy to be an appealing model for the rational state.
The Ottoman empire prompted Europeans to think about religion and politics. Arguments about Islam and Christianity address the future
in western Europe.
AR Rowan is admirably thoughtful and wise on this topic.
2019 May 19
America Versus Iran
Iran is a major nation with 80 million people, 450,000 battle-hardened troops, and a huge stockpile of weapons, plus heavily armed proxies on the
border of Israel. A war would have global effects.
America claims that the ruling mullahs are close to developing nuclear weapons, that the regime sponsors world terrorism, and that
it threatens US troops in the region. Israeli intelligence agency Mossad say Iran is planning strikes against US bases in Iraq. The US Congress
wants to see proof.
President Trump unilaterally pulled out of the 2015 deal that lifted international sanctions in return for Iranian guarantees it would
not develop nuclear weapons. Iran had stuck to its side of the bargain. Its Shia militias and ally Hezbollah had fought against the Islamic State
and its secret service has helped combat the Afghan Taliban.
The driving force for a new war in the Mideast is an unlikely alliance of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
The Saudis and Emiratis want to crush Iran. These autocratic Sunni monarchies feel menaced by a Shia Islamic republic. Israel sees Iran as a
threat and points to Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The alliance seeks US military power. US national security adviser John Bolton is a foreign policy hawk and loathes international
organizations. He wants to overthrow the Iranian regime.
Iran may abandon its nuclear restraint. The stakes are high. War could raise the price of oil.
Eurovision Song Contest 2019
The Observer, 0006 BST
The Netherlands Win
The battle for top spot in the Eurovision song contest was a tight fight between Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy, and North Macedonia.
The public voted Duncan Laurence from the Netherlands with his ballad Arcade the winner, with a total of 492 points. His haunting
track was already a big hit on streaming services. This is the first Dutch win since 1975.
The Eurovision show brought together acts from 41 countries. The UK finished last in the final, with 16 points. The contest was
staged in Israel.
AR Iceland were crap, Madonna was didactic, the staging was great.
Planet Discoveries Pile Up
Since its launch in April 2018, the NASA Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has found hundreds more exoplanets orbiting nearby stars.
But a mysterious gap in their sizes shows we need new ideas on how planets are made.
The galaxy hosts a lot of small planets measuring 2 to 4 times the radius of Earth and others about the same size as Earth.
But for some reason, planets with radii 1.5 to 2 times that of Earth are rare. This "Fulton gap" first appeared in the findings of the Kepler
TESS deputy science director Sara Seager sees three main ideas:
⦿ Perhaps bigger planets hold on to their atmosphere, and so look even bigger, while smaller
ones lose it and look smaller.
⦿ Perhaps the size gap results directly from how planets form in the primordial gas and dust
around the young star.
⦿ Perhaps as midsized planets radiate away their internal heat, they blow off their atmosphere,
leaving them below the gap.
In many exoplanet systems, smaller worlds tend to orbit close to their host stars, and bigger planets are more distant.
Small planets could lose their atmospheres, and mass, to the searing heat and UV radiation of their stars.
Super-Earth or mini-Neptune planets are rock balls shrouded either in thick clouds of hydrogen gas or in water. Computer
simulations suggest they are water worlds, either fluid all the way down or compressed into forms such as superionic ice deep below the
TESS will survey the whole sky and will focus on nearby stars.
2019 May 18
The axion is a particle that may be produced in the early universe. I have no idea if the axion is real. Everything theoretical physicists do is speculative,
and likely wrong, except for things we get right.
The existence of the axion was originally hypothesized to prevent particles that we know to be real from developing properties that we are
pretty sure they don't have. It exists to stop the standard model of particle physics from endowing neutrons with properties that are inconsistent with
our laboratory observations.
The neutron has no overall electric charge. But it is made of quarks, which do have a charge. The mystery that the axion clears up is why
the distribution of positive and negative charges has precisely zero electric dipole moment.
This is all hypothetical. The neutron may have a very small electric dipole moment. But this would create the problem of why it is so small.
Even if the electric dipole moment is zero, it is entirely possible that the axion still doesn't exist. Maybe we need a different approach.
Theoretical physicists ask questions about the nature of the evolution of spacetime and everything in it. We have exactly one universe to
work with, and it operates entirely beyond our control. The best we can do is collect information, by taking images of distant stars and galaxies with
telescopes, by testing ideas about how particles interact with each other, and by detecting gravitational waves.
To interpret this data, we make some mathematical assumptions, and we use the data to hone our assumptions. We develop ideas about what
happened, and then we refine or radically alter those ideas, based on new evidence. Then, we try to convince ourselves and each other that our ideas
are realistic models of the universe.
BoJo Crushes Rivals
Boris Johnson is the clear favourite to be the next prime minister, according to the first poll of Conservative party members since the start
of the leadership contest:
In a head-to-head run-off, Johnson beats Raab by 59 points to 41. But Johnson would be a divisive choice. Some 31% of Tory members think he would be
a poor leader, including 65% of those who voted Remain.
Johnson regards himself as the only candidate capable of taking on Nigel Farage. He is seen by 70% of Tory members as the most likely
figure to win a general election if he became leader.
YouGov interviewed 858 Tory members between May 10 and 16.
2019 May 17
Europe: A Council of Nations
We have improvised our way into an EU that works for our generation. We now have a Europe of nations. The big decisions are made not by Brussels bureaucrats,
or the European parliament, but by national leaders acting in concert.
After a string of big crises, the European Council meets 6 or 7 times a year, peaking at 10 in 2015. In addition, the Eurogroup of finance
ministers usually meets monthly, and the Foreign Affairs Council of foreign ministers at least that.
Probably never before have different countries worked together on such an everyday basis. The biggest states speak loudest in the European
Council, but the smallest get heard too. The Union is not a state but a union of states.
The main federalist project of the previous generation was the euro. That has given us a strong European central bank, the European stability
mechanism, and something like banking union. Otherwise, federalists look on in frustration.
National leaders making decisions together is more democratic than a union run by technocrats. If citizens dislike EU decisions, they can
vote out their leaders. Here is a mix of nationalism and Europe that works for our generation.
Brexit: Cross-Party Talks Fail
After 6 weeks of talks, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn say they can do no cross-party deal to deliver Brexit. Labour was demanding a full and permanent
customs union and legal pledges on future EU environmental and social legislation. May was prepared to agree to a customs union with Brussels only
until next general election.
Corbyn is a Eurosceptic and calculates that without Brexit dominating the political agenda Labour could focus on other issues. But
there is no political mileage to be gained in propping up an unpopular government pushing through a deeply divisive policy. A Brexit deal would
have alienated more Labour voters than it satisfied.
More than a third of Labour MPs are disillusioned with Corbyn and hope to reverse Brexit through a second referendum. But Labour
party members are overwhelmingly pro-EU. They will be needed to win a future general election.
May: The End is Nigh
Theresa May has agreed to set a timetable for her departure as prime minister in the first week of June, leading MPs to believe she will trigger a
leadership contest before the summer.
Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers, said she would agree a timetable for the election of a new leader
after her Brexit legislation returns to parliament for a last rejection in the first week of June.
Boris: The Second Coming
Boris Johnson has said he will run for the Conservative party leadership after Theresa May stands down. Asked at a business event in Manchester if he
would be a candidate, he replied: "Of course I'm going to go for it."
AR Man the barricades!
2019 May 16
Europe Must Unite
Europe needs to reposition itself in a changed world. The old certainties no longer apply. America, China, and Russia are forcing us, time and again,
to find common positions.
Many people are concerned about Europe. Our political power is not yet commensurate with our economic strength. I feel a duty to join
others in making sure that Europe has a future.
This is a time when we need to fight for our principles and fundamental values. Seven decades of peace no longer suffice to justify
the European project. Without forward-looking arguments to justify Europe, the European peace project would also be in jeopardy.
It is heart-breaking to see how the situation on environmental protection has worsened in so many ways. There is clearly a lack of
consistent political action, on a global scale. What is key is for us to be economically successful. That is my greatest worry.
Nine countries aim to attain climate neutrality by 2050. I am firmly convinced that this can only be done if one is willing to capture
and store CO2. We could pump CO2 into empty gas fields, but if I wanted to do this in
Germany, people would rightly ask me how realistic it is.
In order for the UK to leave the EU, there needs to be a parliamentary majority in London for, rather than merely against, something.
Should there be anything to negotiate, the European Commission will do so on behalf of the 27 member states, as it has done so far.
Brexit Britain and Weimar Germany
The German Historical Museum has a new exhibition about the Weimar republic, the first sustained German attempt at parliamentary government. It was formed
in the wake of WW1 and destroyed by the Nazis in 1933. It was the ultimate stress test of representative liberal democracy in the face of nationalism,
racism, violence, and populism.
The Berlin exhibition is not just about how democracy unravelled in the decade that followed the first Weimar elections in 1919 but also
about whether something like that may again be happening across Europe in 2019.
Weimar was overwhelmed by a potent narrative of national betrayal and the allure of a strong autocratic government. In Brexit Britain, too,
there is a surging narrative on the right about national betrayal, which seems likely to score heavily in the European polls next week.
Edward O. Wilson
Genesis: The Deep Origins of Society
is one of the most important books I've written.
I invented the Encyclopedia of Life, putting out all the information on all known species. I invented, named, and gave the first synthesis
of sociobiology, which in turn gave birth to the field of evolutionary psychology. My fourth book, The Insect Societies, was a finalist for the
National Book Award, which surprised me.
My 1975 book Sociobiology included new research on the social behavior of primates. I suggested that a lot of human social behavior
could be explained by a natural selection of certain activities and steps, leading to ever more complex group selection.
Some of my colleagues had problems with the idea that there could be instincts in humans. But with time, the notion that this book was harmful
began to fade. Genetics is an effective way to understand many aspects of evolutionary biology and behavior.
Two years later, I received the National Medal of Science from President Jimmy Carter. I also wrote and published a book on sociobiology for
a broader audience, On Human Nature. It won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.
William D. Hamilton had this brilliant idea that social behavior originated with kin selection, where individuals within a group behaved
altruistically toward those they shared the most genes with. The ultimate result of kin selection would be a kind of altruism.
Like me, Martin Nowak and Corina Tarnita had misgivings about kin selection. In 2010, we published a paper asserting that Hamilton's theory
was fundamentally flawed. We felt it could not explain how complex societies arose.
In Genesis, I want to settle the questions about group selection once and for all. Group selection can be exactly defined.
My colleague David Sloan Wilson says that within groups, selfish individuals will defeat altruistic ones. However, in conflict, groups of
altruistic individuals will defeat groups of selfish individuals.
Mathematical models can predict these things with precision. Biological research tests those models. This kind of science will give us a
firmer base on which to save the natural world.
AR Admired his work for years. Must read Genesis.
An icon of my childhood
⦿ The Guardian
Sir Vince Cable with Lib Dem
manifesto for May 23 poll
Trump business losses
over $1 billion
2019 May 15
Brexit: Stand and Fight
In 2016, a substantial majority of Conservative MPs judged quitting the EU to be mistaken. Yet today Jeremy Hunt claims to have become a Brexiteer.
I am convinced that he and others still privately regard Brexit as a ghastly mistake.
Leavers have forged an alliance of convenience with the mob. Closet-Remainer Conservative MPs calculate that most of their voters are
now committed or resigned to Brexit. Resistance is futile.
Such pragmatism requires acceptance of Brexiteer claims that the Irish border issue is a mere technicality, that defiance of "Brussels
bullying" will win concessions, that the US will offer a sweetheart deal, that the UK can unilaterally curb non-EU migration, and that the UK alone
can secure better global trading terms than those available to EU members.
Boris Johnson may be the next Conservative leader and form an Extreme Right Government (ERG). Jeremy Hunt might seek to head off an
ERG by embracing the Brexiteers.
Indulging the mob is dishonourable.
2019 May 14
Gulf War 3?
The United States and Iran are at risk of stumbling into war by accident. Fears are rising of military confrontation in the Strait of Hormuz, amid tension
between Iran and the US over ending the 2015 deal designed to keep Tehran's nuclear ambitions in check.
The Trump administration will not renew exemptions that allow oil buyers to continue importing Iranian crude. Iran retaliated by saying that
it would cut back cooperation under the nuclear deal.
President Trump: "We'll see what happens .. It's going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens, I can tell you that. They're not
going to be happy."
UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt: "We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident with an escalation that
State of the UK
We live in a multipolar world without the assurance provided by unquestioned American dominance. We face a more aggressive Russia and a more assertive China.
We do not know what the balance of power in the world will be in 25 years.
Britain stands for the defence of democratic values. The UK will never leave its great ally, the United States, to perform this task alone.
It is simply not sustainable to expect one NATO ally to spend nearly 4% of its GDP on defence while the others spend between 1 and 2%.
Over the coming decade, we should increase the proportion of GDP we devote to defence. The new domains of space and cyber and the
capabilities of artificial intelligence will transform the conduct of warfare. The conflicts of tomorrow could well start with a cyber-attack, then
escalate into strikes by hypersonic missiles and unmanned aircraft.
We cannot defend democracy if people believe we are ignoring it at home. Many feel that modern capitalism only works for a privileged few.
When it comes to civic decision making, people want more power and agency over the decisions taken by people in authority. We need a renewal of the
social contract between state and citizen.
Forces in Dimensions 8 and 24
Maryna Viazovska had already found the densest way to pack balls in dimensions 8 and 24. She and her team have now used the configurations solving
the packing problem in those two dimensions to solve much harder problems.
In each dimension higher than 3, we can construct a configuration like a tennis ball pyramid. As the dimension increases, the gaps
between the balls grow. At dimension 8, you have enough room to fit new balls into the gaps. Doing so produces a highly symmetric configuration
called the E8 lattice. In dimension 24, you get the Leech lattice by fitting extra balls into the gaps.
These two lattices crop up in one area of mathematics after another, from number theory to analysis to mathematical physics.
Viazovska considered repulsive forces. The rule that balls do not overlap translates into an infinitely strong repulsion when their
centers are closer together than their diameter. For any one of these forces, the challenge is to find the ground state for an infinite collection
of particles. One can find lower bounds on the energy of the ground state by means of auxiliary functions.
In dimensions 8 and 24, the bounds came close to the energy of E8 and the Leech lattice. For packing balls, Viazovska had found an
auxiliary function that gave a bound matching the energy of E8 or the Leech lattice. In the case of a repulsive force in dimension 8 or 24, she
found auxiliary functions for every repulsive force.
2019 May 13
The Civilizational State
After the Cold War, Western elites assumed that the worldwide spread of liberal values would create a new global order based on sovereign states. But
today we are witnessing the end of the liberal world order and the rise of the civilizational state. In China and Russia, the ruling classes reject
Western liberalism and the expansion of a global market society.
The rise of Russia and China is weakening the West. Their leaders reject universal human rights, the rule of law, and a free press in
the name of cultural difference. Geopolitics is no longer simply about the economy or security but largely sociocultural and civilizational.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping champions a model of socialism with Chinese characteristics fusing a Leninist state with neo-Confucian culture.
Vladimir Putin defines Russia as a civilizational state that is neither Western nor Asian but uniquely Eurasian. Donald Trump rails against the
European multicultural dilution of Western civilization.
Geopolitics has turned into a contest between alternative versions of civilized norms. Within the West, there is a growing gap between
a cosmopolitan EU and a nativist US. Brexit, Trump, and the populist insurgency sweeping continental Europe mark a revolt against liberalism.
The idea that Western civilization represents the forward march of history toward a single normative order rests on a common cultural
heritage of Greco-Roman culture and Judeo-Christian norms. Liberalism is eroding these foundations by promoting standards that glorify greed, sex,
and violence. Too many liberals ignore the achievements that make the West a recognizable civilization.
The rejection of Western universalism by the elites in Russia and China challenges the idea of the nation state as the international
norm for political organization. But neither the West nor China and Russia can resist the disruptive forces of technology and economic
globalization. The world is sliding into a soft totalitarianism.
David H. Freedman
Pablo Jarillo-Herrero has found superconductivity in twisted bilayer graphene, a monatomic sheet of carbon crystal on top of another one but rotated to
leave the two layers 9.2 milliradian askew.
Allan MacDonald had seen how the misalignment of the two sheets creates an angle-dependent moiré pattern. He reckoned the amount
of energy a free electron in the cell needs to tunnel between the two graphene sheets varies with rotation angle. He calculated that when the angle
decreases to 9.2 mrad, the tunneling energy falls to zero.
For Jarillo-Herrero and his team, the challenge was to create an ultraclean, highly homogeneous pair of graphene sheets and to overcome
their natural opposition to being askew. The sheets had to be in near vacuum and cooled to almost 0 K to give a chance of seeing correlated electron
behavior. In 2017, his team produced a new device that behaved as an insulator in an electric field, but when they increased the field it suddenly
became a superconductor.
Magic-angle twisted bilayer graphene can illuminate the mysterious properties of superconductivity. It seems to act like a cuprate, a
ceramic in which superconductivity can occur at temperatures up to about 140 K. But cuprates are complex crystals that superconduct only when
precisely doped with impurities. Twisted bilayer graphene is just carbon.
The stakes are huge. Reducing the energy loss in electric power transmission would boost economies and cut harmful emissions around
the world. Qubit fabrication could usher in the rise of quantum computers.
2019 May 12
The UN report into biodiversity warns that human overpopulation is harming the species we rely on for survival. A background level of extinction is normal.
But now we face a mass extinction brought about by humans.
Scientists have catalogued only a small fraction of all species. We know far too little about which bricks in the pile might, if removed,
topple whole structures. Complex ecosystems are extremely hard to recreate once damaged.
We are out of our depth trying to fathom or control the biosphere's complex connections. It is hard to disentangle the threat to species
from climate change, for example, because each problem exacerbates the other. Species find it harder to survive as temperatures warm and a loss of
carbon sinks accelerates the volume of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Scientists have been warning of the danger for decades.
The human population is still growing. The global population increased from 1.5 billion in 1900 to 6.1 billion in 2000. The UN forecasts
global population growing to 11 billion in 2100.
Having more children is not in our interest as a species. It is irresponsible for governments to welcome the UN report while promoting
increases in population.
2019 May 11
American presidential daughter-in-law Lara Trump opined on Fox Business that Angela Merkel's welcome of refugees in 2015 had been Germany's downfall and
one of the worst things to ever happen to Germany. She probably hasn't visited Germany lately.
German efforts to tackle the influx of more than a million refugees have had mixed results. Deporting those who can't claim asylum and
integrating those who can stay has been a struggle. But 400,000 now have jobs or are in training. For Germans, downfall was 1945, not 2015.
Robert Kagan worries that a failure of the European project might see the return of the German Question. He admires Germany's democratic
transformation but says: "Think of Europe today as an unexploded bomb, its detonator intact and functional, its explosives still live."
No nation has profited more handsomely from the postwar European order than Germany. None has a greater interest in preserving it.
The real risk to Europe's prosperity and safety is a Germany that seeks to hedge against a bullying and erratic America with the help of Russia
2019 May 10
Lily Kuo, 0458 UTC
Last-minute talks in Washington between Chinese vice premier Liu He and US trade representative Robert Lighthizer have failed to salvage months of talks
on a deal. On Friday US tariffs on Chinese goods were raised to 25% from 10%.
China: "The Chinese side deeply regrets that it will have to take necessary countermeasures .. It is hoped that the US and the Chinese
side will work together to resolve existing problems through cooperation and consultation."
Marcus du Sautoy
A mathematician is a pattern searcher. In my own research, I am trying to understand the world of symmetry. A typical day might involve some hours in
deep mathematical meditation at my desk.
Creativity comes in waves. When you've hit your first peak, there will inevitably be a fallow period before the next peak arrives.
Mathematics is our best tool for making predictions and planning.
2019 May 9
The Brexit Question
Andy Ross vs Ben Aston
A public debate, Southbourne
My speaking notes (PDF, 11 slides, 55 KB)
Superionic ice is a new phase of water, black and hot, and four times as dense as normal ice. Across the solar system, more water probably exists as
superionic ice filling the interiors of Uranus and Neptune than in any other phase, including the liquid form in oceans on Earth.
Scientists have already discovered 18 architectures of ice crystal. After ice I, which comes in two forms, the rest are numbered II to XVII.
Superionic ice is ice XVIII.
Ice XVIII is part solid, part liquid, where the oxygen atoms form a cubic lattice, but the ionized hydrogen atoms spill free, flowing like
a liquid through the rigid cage of oxygens. It conducts electricity, like a metal, with protons playing the usual role of electrons. The loose protons
also boost its entropy, making it stable and raising its melting point.
Marius Millot and colleagues
hit water with laser blasts between diamond anvils. As the water began crystalizing into nanoscale ice cubes, more laser beams vaporized
a sliver of iron next to the sample, flooding the crystalizing water with X-rays, which then diffracted from the ice crystals, allowing the team to
discern their structure. Ice XVIII has a cubic lattice with oxygen atoms at every corner and the center of each face.
Uranus and Neptune have lumpy and complex magnetic fields, with more than two poles, misaligned with the rotation axis. One way to produce
them would be to confine the conducting fluid responsible for the dynamo into a thin outer shell of the planet, instead of letting it reach down into
the core. But the idea that these planets might have solid cores seemed unrealistic.
Inside Uranus and Neptune, a thick mantle of superionic ice might begin at about 8 Mm down. That would limit most dynamo action to
shallower depths, accounting for their unusual fields. Superionic ice could be common throughout the universe.
2019 May 8
Trump Power Play
The New York Times
President Trump asserts executive privilege to shield redacted parts of the Mueller report.
Brexit Power Play
Downing Street says Theresa May will not quit as prime minister until the UK leaves the EU.
Mathematics has elevated the formulation of a conjecture into high art. A great conjecture must meet a number of stringent criteria:
1 It should be nontrivial, or not too easy to prove.
2 It also has to be deep. Once the conjecture is proved, it is not so much the endpoint of an arduous journey
but rather the starting point of an even greater adventure. For example, the Riemann hypothesis unlocks many other insights and suggests vast
3 It must have substantial evidence. The first 10 trillion cases of the Riemann hypothesis have been checked
numerically using computers. But all this supporting material does not satisfy mathematicians. They demand a conclusive proof.
4 It helps if the challenge can be stated concisely. The conciseness of a great conjecture adds to its
5 The conjecture may be refuted. For two millennia, people tried to prove that Euclid's fifth postulate can
be derived from the other four axioms of planar geometry. Then mathematicians constructed examples of non-Euclidian geometry, which led to Einstein's
curved spacetime. Similarly, when Kurt Gödel published his incompleteness theorem in 1931, he essentially answered in the negative one of
Hilbert's problems about the consistency of arithmetic, but he also induced a blossoming that led to the development of modern computers.
2019 May 7
Breaking Brexit, New Series
Theresa May's unofficial deputy David Lidington confirms UK will hold European elections later this month, as MPs run out of time to agree a
Brexit deal before the vote.
Today, we are friends and natural partners, bound together by our common experience, mutual interests and shared values. But whatever the shape of
our future relationship, it is more clear to me than it has ever been that the bonds between us will, and must, endure, and that our young people,
and future generations, will have as much cause to cherish those bonds as our generation has had. Our countries and people have been through so
As we look towards the future, I can only hope that:
♣ We can also pledge to redouble our commitment to each other and to the ties between us.
♣ We can ensure that our continent will never again see the division and conflict of the past.
♣ We will continue to be an indispensable force for good in our world.
♣ The friendships and partnerships that bind us together will continue.
2019 May 6
Destruction of nature is as big a threat to humanity as climate change
"The evidence is incontestable. Our destruction of biodiversity and ecosystem services has reached levels that threaten our well-being at least as much
as human-induced climate change."
A major UN report on the state of nature around the world is mostly grim reading. We humans have already significantly altered three-quarters
of all land and two-thirds of the oceans. More than a third of land and three-quarters of freshwater resources are devoted to crops or livestock.
Our expanding farms and cities are leaving less room for wildlife. The other major causes are the direct exploitation of wildlife such as
hunting, climate change, pollution and the spread of invasive species. Climate change is set to become ever more destructive.
The aim of the report is to provide an authoritative scientific basis for international action. All countries except the USA have ratified
the 1992 UN Convention of Biodiversity and are supposed to be conserving biodiversity and promoting its sustainable use. Despite this, more than 80% of
the agreed international targets for 2020 will not be met.
⦿ Carola Radke / Museum für Naturkunde Berlin
A million species are now threatened with extinction
"The beginning of
the end of Brexit"
Sir Vince Cable
"Finding yourself takes as long
as it takes .. learning how to
be kind to yourself while
you're discovering who
you are is something I
wish for everybody."
Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating. Grave impacts on people
around the world are now likely, warns the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
IPBES chair Sir Robert Watson: "The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly
than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide."
Around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades. The average abundance of native
species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than a third of all marine mammals are
Global goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories. Goals
for 2030 may only be achieved through transformative changes.
To bring change in today's world, simply electing the right politicians is not enough. The lesson of history is that only violence can ensure the
redistribution of wealth. The big equalizing moments in history shared one common root: massive and violent disruptions of the established order.
War is one horseman of the apocalypse. World War II hugely reduced inequality in the United States, Europe, and Japan.
Another horseman is plague. The outbreak of the bubonic plague in 14th-century Eurasia killed a third of the population and made
labor scarce. As a result, wages grew, and the gap between rich and poor narrowed. But inequality went up when the population began to
The rich are beneficiaries of the state. If states fall apart, everybody is worse off, but the rich have more to lose. Their wealth
is wiped out by the destruction of the state, as in the fall of the Mayan civilization or Chinese dynasties.
I am not advocating war, but repeating the same old ideas ignores the lessons of history. To create lasting change, something big
has to happen.
AR The UK was also equalized by WW2 but has relapsed far enough to forget the value of the EU.
2019 May 5
We Can Stop Brexit
Liberal Democrat members are strongly committed to carrying their success through into the European elections. We have a clear mission to stop
People ask if there is anything that can be done to stop the remain vote fragmenting. European elections operate on
proportional representation, but the system is still unforgiving to split voting.
We hope is that voters will think hard about who can make an impact. Lib Dem MEPs have a strong record of campaigning on
the environment, consumer protection, and animal welfare.
People have said for decades they would support the Lib Dems if more other people were doing so. Liberal Democrats need the
support of everyone who wants to stop Brexit.
"Just get on with Brexit" — really?
Those final results, expressed as % change from 2015:
[hard Leavers, want out at all costs]
[soft Leavers, want deal if possible]
[undecided, mixed messages]
[Remainers, want hard EU green regs]
AR Mike is the founder of
Scientists for EU.
2019 May 4
Local Elections: Summary
UK prime minister Theresa May will be told by senior Conservative party members that she must set a date for her departure next week. The party
was given its worst drubbing in local elections in almost a quarter of a century.
Conservatives lost 1334 councillors and control of 44 councils. Labour lost 82 councillors and 6 councils. Lib Dems gained
703 councillors and 10 councils. Greens added 194 councillors. UKIP lost 144 councillors.
Local Elections: England
AR On discrepant numbers, see last FT checkpoint below.
Local Elections: Bournemouth-Christchurch-Poole
Final results for the new BCP Council: 36 Conservative, 15 Liberal Democrat, 11 independent, 7 Poole People, 3 Labour, 2 Green,
1 Alliance for Local Living, 1 UKIP
Overall result: No overall control, turnout 33%.
Local Elections: Lessons
✓ Revenge of the Remainers: The Tories suffered their worst results in parts of England where most
voted to Remain in the 2016 EU referendum. The Conservatives loss is the worst since 1995.
✓ Lib Dems unleashed: The Liberal Democrats were the clear victors. LD gains were
spread evenly across Remain and Leave voting areas, maybe due to anger at both big parties.
✓ Labour pains: Tory setbacks were not matched by Labour gains. The vote for Labour
held up in strongly Remain areas. Most councils where Labour lost control were in majority Leave areas.
✓ No business as usual: The two big parties now have their lowest share of
councillors since 2010. Extrapolations of the vote to the entire UK put both Conservatives and Labour at 28%.
✓ Not all numbers say the same: Some calculations differ on the changes, since
there have been boundary changes, reductions in the size of assemblies, defections, and by-elections.
AR Greens did very well, perhaps thanks to Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion.
2019 May 3
The UK should resile from its decision to leave the EU
Most of the votes cast in England in the 2016 referendum on whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union were in favour of leaving.
The result was marginal and unexpected, and it was widely seen as having been driven by a mixture of anger and pride. Cooler heads continue to
say it provides no good basis for redirecting national policy.
There is still time for UK politicians to resile from that decision. For the sake of all we hold dear, defying the populists who
would drag us all into anarchy and chaos, they should show some
PDF, 10 pages, 7000 words, 330 KB
2019 May 2
Committee on Climate Change
The CCC recommends a new emissions target for the UK: net-zero greenhouse gases by 2050. For Scotland, it recommends a net-zero date of 2045,
reflecting Scotland's greater relative capacity to remove emissions. For Wales, it recommends a 95% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050.
A net-zero GHG target for 2050 will deliver on the commitment the UK made by signing the Paris Agreement. It is achievable with known
technologies, alongside improvements in people's lives, and within the expected economic cost that parliament accepted when it legislated the
existing 2050 target for an 80% reduction from 1990.
Gamma rays radiate from the Sun seven times more abundantly than expected. A narrow bandwidth of frequencies around 10 YHz is absent. The gamma-ray signal
also extends to higher frequencies than predicted, and it varies across the face of the Sun and throughout the 11-year solar cycle.
Cosmic rays from outer space get mirrored by the solar magnetic field. On their way out, the rays collide with atoms in the solar atmosphere
and fizzle in a flurry of gamma radiation. The mirroring process is efficient enough to give a faint glow of gamma rays.
The NASA Fermi gamma-ray space telescope detects many more gamma rays during solar minimum. This makes sense if cosmic rays are the source.
During solar minimum, more cosmic rays can plunge into the solar magnetic field and get mirrored, instead of being deflected sooner by the turbulent
tangle of field lines in the inner solar system.
The solar magnetic field remains poorly understood. These fresh clues about the structure of the magnetic field could help explain why
the Sun changes polarity every 11 years.
UK Defence Secretary Sacked
UK defence secretary Gavin Williamson is a minnow who got himself fired because of his ambition. The prime minister holds him responsible for the leak of
a discussion in the National Security Council last week. The leak enabled the Telegraph to name five ministers who had attacked the involvement of
Huawei in the UK telecoms system and to report that Theresa May had overridden them.
As an error of judgment, what Williamson did was monumental. No one will be sorry to see him go.
"Perhaps [his] threats over military spending, and his boast that he made Theresa May and could break her, will have been as
responsible for his downfall as his alleged leaking was."
2019 May 1
Thomas L. Friedman
We are at a moment when the world is experiencing four big changes at once:
△ Climate: Heatwaves, floods, droughts, and wildfires are getting more extreme.
△ Globalization: Our interconnected world is becoming an interdependent one.
△ Work: Machines can often handle information better than human beings.
△ Communications: Cloud devices empower people to act with global reach.
We are seeing the erosion of democracy and order. We need leaders who appreciate that the challenges destabilizing the world today
are global in nature.
Black Hole Jets
James Miller-Jones et al.
Black holes accreting mass from companion stars can emit powerful relativistic jets. For stellar-mass black holes, the accretion flow that launches
or redirects the jets shows precession due to frame dragging when the spin axis is misaligned with the orbital plane of the companion star.
We model a rapidly changing jet orientation on a time scale of minutes to hours in the black-hole
X-ray binary V404 Cygni as the
precession of a vertically extended slim disk that arises from the high accretion rate. Similar dynamics should govern any misaligned accreting
The NASA Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope appears to be picking up too many gamma rays from the galactic center. Perhaps dark matter particles in the
center annihilate in a burst of gamma rays. Or perhaps the rays shine from pulsars too dim to be seen individually.
Rebecca Leane and Tracy Slatyer modeled the Milky Way galaxy with stars, gas, dust, and known pulsars. Then they added dark matter and
further small pulsars and saw surprising results. As more dark matter was added, the more the model mistook that dark matter for pulsars.
The International Space Station Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) experiment has detected more antiprotons than expected, another
possible sign of dark matter. The dark matter that would match the AMS data could also cause a gamma glow in the galactic center.
Leane: "Potentially we are seeing the first signal of dark matter."
Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako inaugurate the Reiwa (Beautiful Harmony) era
2019 April 30
Japanese Emperor Resigns
Emperor Akihito has reported his abdication to the gods. TV images showed him entering a shrine to report his retirement to the goddess Amaterasu.
The abdication will be publicly marked by a ceremony in the Imperial Palace on live TV. Attendees will include empress Michiko, crown
prince Naruhito, crown princess Masako, prime minister Shinzo Abe, the heads of both houses of parliament, and supreme court justices. Imperial
chamberlains will carry state and privy seals along with a sword and a jewel, which together with a mirror are the three sacred treasures.
Akihito's reign runs through to midnight, when Naruhito becomes Japan's 126th emperor in a hereditary monarchy dating back to the
5th century CE.
AR All this trumps the routinely European UK monarchy.
2019 April 29
Military Expenditure 2018
World military expenditure is estimated to have been $1822 billion in 2018, 2.6% higher in real terms than in 2017 and 5.4% higher than in 2009.
The top 15 military spenders in the world in 2018 were the same as those in 2017. The five biggest spenders in 2018 were the United States,
China, Saudi Arabia, India, and France, together accounting for 60% of global military spending. The top 15 countries spent $1470 billion, accounting
At $649 billion, US military expenditure accounted for 36% of global military spending in 2018.
Top Ten Military spending in (estimated, e) US$ billion:
AR Note that the UK falls between France and Germany.
2019 April 28
China Watches Western Cannibalism
As London and Washington convulse, China keeps going. The Belt and Road Initiative of Chinese President Xi Jinping seeks to build infrastructure on a
mass scale, ultimately improving transport ties with China across the world. Xi is threading the world in a web of dependency.
Meanwhile, the United States and the UK are imposing political crises on themselves. In the United States, a presidential election
campaign pitching President Donald Trump against a crowd of Democratic foes will be firing up in the coming weeks.
China is creating a society without public debate in which unelected officials use artificial intelligence to control everything.
It holds its population in a grip that no one living in a democracy could ever countenance.
Yet US and UK leaders seem focused on petty personal attacks. Debate is shrill, opinions entrenched, democracy weakened. US and UK
electorates will emerge bitter and divided.
Demokratie in der Defensive
Willy-Brandt-Gespräch 2019 (35:50)
AR For those who can follow it, this is a good lecture. I was expected left-liberal platitudes but heard an intelligent
and thoughtful contribution to a big debate.
2019 April 27
The UK may well have three prime ministers this year and either revoke its notification to leave the EU or commit to a fresh referendum. Consider:
▸ A clear majority of this (or probably the next) parliament wants to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
▸ No majority exists for any deal that leaves Britain in vassal or satellite status, a.k.a. Brino.
▸ Many MPs in the Conservative party and almost all of its members want a no-deal Brexit.
Conservatives face a bad result in the local elections on May 2 and a dreadful result in the European parliamentary election. With the party
reeling, Nigel Farage crowing, and a Brexit cliff edge approaching, the proverbial men in grey suits must surely come for Theresa May.
Among the obvious contenders as successor, Boris Johnson has a good chance. If he won, he would have to call an immediate general election
because a dozen or more of his outraged colleagues would resign the Tory whip. He would then lose the general election.
Jeremy Corbyn would become prime minister, but probably without a working majority. The Brexit deadline of October 31 would loom. France and
Germany would confront the UK with revoke, referendum, or the bum's rush. Corbyn would choose revoke or referendum.
By Christmas, the UK could be on its third prime minister this year and still be in the EU.
2019 April 26
Russian president Vladimir Putin hosted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vladivostok.
Putin: "We welcome DPRK leadership's steps to establish a dialogue with the US and to normalize relations between South and North Koreas.
We're coming from a stand that there's no alternative to peaceful solution of nuclear and other problems of the region."
Dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington has faltered since the summit in Hanoi.
Putin: "I will speak [Friday] in Beijing with the leadership of the People's Republic of China, but we will also openly and frankly
discuss today's meeting with the American leadership. There are no secrets here."
Theresa May's government is one of the least successful in UK history.
On Tuesday, the government's national security council, which is chaired by the prime minister and contains senior ministers as well as
security officials, agreed that the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei could build parts of the UK's 5G network. The Huawei decision would normally be
tightly guarded and unpublicised, but it was reported in detail the following morning.
When ministers or officials on the NSC unilaterally leak details of its decisions to the press, something has gone very rotten in
government. Many ministers seem to have returned to Westminster this week blinded by ambition to succeed May as prime minister. Yet a leadership
challenge could easily trigger a general election in which the Conservatives are massacred.
Tories are showing all the dignity and judgment of a headless chicken.
My review of a Springer book by Delia Perlov and Alex Vilenkin
2019 April 25
Joe Biden Announces 2020 Run for President
The New York Times
AR Good news: He can defeat Trump.
The US Military
The traditional model of US military power is being disrupted. On future battlefields, swarms of intelligent machines will deliver violence at a greater
volume and higher velocity than ever before.
US Navy aircraft carriers are priced at $13 billion each and their fighter jets at $90 million each. We are burning through billions of
dollars by deploying such resources against technologically primitive enemies in the Mideast and Africa. And we are burning through trillions in order
to build a relatively small number of such platforms that are increasingly vulnerable to detection and destruction by adversaries like China and Russia.
Emerging technologies like hypersonic propulsion, space-based weapons, and quantum sensors makes this a recipe for rapid military defeat.
The answer is to radically increase the numbers of military platforms, lower their costs, and enhance their autonomy. Instead of straining to reach a
target of 355 ships, the US Navy should be aiming for many more, including drones.
Between them, the Pentagon, Congress, and a serious president could change the way America prepares for war.
Read it now (PDF, 4200 words, 6 pages)
2019 April 24
The UK should revoke its notice to leave the EU
Most of the votes cast in England in the 2016 referendum on whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union were in favour of leaving.
The result was widely seen as having been driven by a mixture of anger and pride.
Many voters in the north of England were angry that their regional interests and concerns were apparently being ignored by the
governing class in Westminster, while many voters in the south of England were proud of their British heritage and felt that political union
with continental European states was intolerably humiliating.
Despite majorities against leaving the EU in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the result in England and Wales was to precipitate
the political crisis that has rocked the UK ever since.
2019 April 23
St George's Day
To prevent an overlap with Easter, the Church of England says St George's Day does not fall on the usual date of April 23 this year but April 29.
Catholics will transfer the day to April 30.
AR St George had a Turkish father and a Syrian mother, was a Roman citizen, died in Palestine, never visited England, and didn't kill
America: The Prize
For Democrats, leaving Donald Trump in office is the best chance for fundamental realignment of American politics in more than a generation. Trump is
three years into destroying what we know as the Republican party. Another two years just might finish it off.
Trump has abandoned most of the core principles that have defined Republicans for a century. He should be impeached because he is unfit
for the presidency. He represents a clear and present danger to US national security. But impeaching him is likely to be bad politics.
Nothing will unite the Republican party more than trying to remove the president anywhere but at the ballot box. Allowing Trump to lead
the Republican party into the next election is the better bet to deliver progressivism in America.
Britain: The Opportunity
British governance is in a crisis. Politicians must reimagine how to run the UK. The crisis has created the conditions to reshape its institutions.
Entrepreneurs love nothing better than to highlight opportunities amid chaos. Nation states have a powerful monopoly position within a
territory and important responsibilities, all compromised and challenged by machine learning. National governments may decide shaping the values of
a society is too important to be left to multinational companies.
UK voters have seen the ineffectiveness of their political institutions. They may welcome a few radical ideas:
♠ Reshape environmental policy by using tax incentives
♥ Digitize the NHS and secure the transfer of medical data
♣ Prepare students for the digital age by teaching tech skills
♦ Limit concentrations of economic power and redistribute gains
All this can be done within the EU.
2019 Earth Day
People are slowly becoming more aware, but emissions continue to rise.
This is not just young people being sick of politicians. It's an existential crisis. It's something that will affect the future of our
civilization. It's a crisis and we must take action accordingly.
I support Extinction Rebellion. What they are doing is good. Civil disobedience is important to show this is an emergency. We need to do
everything we can to put pressure on the people in power.
We won't be satisfied until they meet our demands and act.
Joseph E. Stiglitz
The American economy is failing its citizens. The United States has the highest level of inequality among the advanced countries and one of the lowest
levels of opportunity. Americans forgot that the true source of the wealth of a nation is the creativity and innovation of its people.
Politics has played a big role in the increase in corporate rent-seeking and the accompanying inequality. Greater economic inequality is
leading, in our money-driven political system, to more political inequality, with weaker rules and deregulation causing still more economic inequality.
The prescription begins by recognizing the vital role that the state plays in making markets serve society. We need regulations that ensure
strong competition without abusive exploitation. We must be as resolute in combating market power as the corporate sector is in increasing it.
Progressive capitalism is based on a new social contract between voters and elected officials, between workers and corporations, between
rich and poor. The neoliberal fantasy that unfettered markets will deliver prosperity to everyone should be put to rest.
We are witnessing a meltdown in British politics with no historical precedent. Both main parties are losing their traditional supporters fast.
Not much more than half of 2017 Conservative voters intend to vote Conservative at the next general election. The Conservatives could lose
much of their constituency infrastructure. People may turn to extremes to vent their anger and disgust at the government.
The EU high command fears that a group of far-right parties from France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and other countries will become
the pivotal force in the next European Parliament. New British MEPs could join them.
The number of Conservative defectors would be almost halved if Boris Johnson became prime minister. Johnson is despised by many Tory MPs,
but this could change if they panic after the local and European elections.
More European leaders may then decide the EU will be better off without the UK. A No Deal exit looms.
Earth Shaped Humans
We are living in the Anthropocene era. Our appetite for natural resources and industrial products is eradicating species, warming the oceans, and disrupting
the global climate as never before. It is the most severe jolt since 55 megayears ago, when within 100 kiloyears the temperature of the planet jerked up
by between 5 K and 8 K, held for a while, and then fell again.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. Methane on the sea floor trapped within ice was safely sequestered until the ice melted. Volcanic
eruptions put enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to raise the temperature, releasing methane and raising the temperature further.
The warming led to a burst of evolutionary diversification, creating ungulates, which are critical to human societies around the world,
and early humans, who rapidly dispersed from East Africa across Asia, Europe, and North America.
Our large brains emerged in response to complex and rapidly changing surroundings. East Africa dried out, driven largely by tectonic plate
movement, which made mountains that blocked the westward movement of moisture-laden clouds. The changing availability of water favored the evolution of
more versatile human behavior.
Our ancestors walked out of Africa and into Asia when Earth was in the depths of its most recent ice age. Global temperatures were lower,
the climate was drier, and the great ice sheets locked up water, lowering global sea levels.
Early humans in Asia walked into Malaysia, Indonesia, New Guinea, and Australia. A land corridor linking Siberia and Alaska let them trek
into the Americas. Then the land bridge was flooded, and two human populations grew independently. Once the ice age ended, climatic stability since
then has let civilizations emerge.
The staple of most of our diets became cereal crops from grass species that had proliferated around the world as Earth cooled and dried.
The animals we domesticated were mostly the ungulates that dominated the grassy ecologies.
Planetary forces dictated where the first cities formed. Mesopotamia is the result of continental drift that caused the Arabian plate to
slam into the southern margin of the Eurasian plate, forming the Zagros mountains, whose weight created a basin that filled with sediment.
The Harappan civilization emerged along the Indus valley at around the same time. The Indus flows along a basin beside the Himalayas,
which formed when India crashed into Eurasia. Active plate tectonics provided the fertile basins for our first civilizations.
Anthropocene climate change is dangerous. Many regions will see increasing droughts or the loss of fertile land as deserts form, while
others will experience more intense bursts of rainfall and flooding. Melting polar ice caps will raise sea levels and flood coastal areas and cities,
while melting mountain glaciers will reduce water supplies. Tropical diseases will spread, heatwaves will kill people, and mass migration will
The life of Jesus Christ has been given the big-budget docudrama treatment by the US satellite channel History. Expert contributor
Simon Sebag Montefiore: "The number of people who are religious in all the Abrahamic faiths is increasing all the time .. Jesus's
life story is absolutely gripping and fascinating .. and therefore the perfect subject for a documentary."
Notre Dame, Paris
AR If this were the
Palace of Westminster
we might have lost
a few MPs.
What if the army had
deposed Hitler in 1936?
2019 Easter Sunday
Trump Is Corrupt
Vladimir Putin wanted Donald Trump to become president of the United States and undertook a campaign to make sure it happened. Trump might be the only
person left in America who disagrees with this fact. Trump, his family, and his campaign may not have set up a criminal conspiracy to cooperate with
Russia, but they were enthusiastic about Russian interference in the election.
Trump made comprehensive and far-reaching attempts to obstruct justice, including urging officials to pressure the FBI, trying to fire
the special counsel, and lying to the public. He lied seemingly every time Russia came up and regularly instructed aides to lie to the public.
Nearly everything he called "fake news" turned out to be true.
Trump has no concern about whether his actions are illegal or unethical. He brought to the Oval Office his boundless willingness to lie
and have others lie for him, his complete disregard for any norm of integrity or propriety, and his belief that the entire US government exists to
serve his personal ends. This president is profoundly corrupt.
2019 April 20
The Danger Facing American Democracy
The New York Times
The Mueller report is categorical: "The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion."
Russia's interference in the campaign was the core issue that Mueller was appointed to investigate. The report details serious and
dangerous actions against the United States that Trump has never overtly confronted, acknowledged, condemned, or comprehended.
The report documents Russian efforts to contact the Trump campaign through business connections, offers of assistance to the campaign,
invitations for Trump to meet Putin, and plans for improved American-Russian relations. Both sides saw potential gains.
The president refuses to see that he has been used to damage American democracy and national security.
2019 Good Friday
The Mueller Indictment
The New York Times
Robert Mueller and his team found substantial evidence that President Trump broke federal law on numerous occasions by attempting to shut down or
interfere with the Russia investigation. The report revealed a White House riddled with dysfunction and distrust, one in which Trump and his
aides lie with contempt for one another and the public.
Mueller: "We determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the president committed crimes ..
fairness concerns counseled against potentially reaching that judgment when no charges can be brought .. If we had confidence after a thorough
investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state .. The conclusion that Congress
may apply the obstruction laws to the president's corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks
and balances and the principle that no person is above the law."
When notified that a special counsel had been appointed to scrutinize his behavior, Trump reportedly slumped in his chair and said:
"Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I'm fucked."
There's still a long way to go before it can be said that justice has been done.
UK: Sick Man of Europe
The UK is undergoing six crises at the same time:
† Economic: Productivity and real incomes per head are stagnant.
† National identity is being linked to questions about loyalty.
† Brexit has weaponised identity, leading to accusations of treason.
† Political divisions based on identity are destroying both main parties.
† A referendum is being used to resolve a constitutional question.
† Leadership: With its present leaders, the mess can only worsen.
The UK will remain sick for a while.
2019 April 18
The Mueller Report: Live Analysis
The New York Times
After a sweeping 22-month investigation, Robert S. Mueller III found there was insufficient evidence to establish that Donald Trump or his associates
engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia to disrupt the 2016 election.
Investigators identified numerous contacts between campaign advisers and Russians affiliated with the government during the campaign
and after the election. But the special counsel did not establish that the contacts added up to an illegal conspiracy.
The report detailed Trump's efforts to thwart the investigation, and the Mueller team debated whether the episodes amounted to criminal
obstruction of justice. The report said that, by virtue of his position as president, he had the authority to carry out several of the acts in
question, including firing James B. Comey as FBI director.
Read the Mueller Report: Full Document
2019 April 17
Our house is falling apart. Our leaders need to start acting accordingly because at the moment they are not.
If our house was falling apart our leaders wouldn't go on like we do today. If our house was falling apart, you wouldn't hold three
emergency Brexit summits and no emergency summit regarding the breakdown of the climate and the environment.
The extinction rate is up to six times faster than what is considered normal, with up to 200 species becoming extinct every single day.
Erosion of fertile topsoil, deforestation of the rainforest, toxic air pollution, loss of insects and wildlife, acidification of our oceans —
these are all disastrous trends.
It is still not too late to act. It will take a far-reaching vision, it will take courage, it will take fierce determination to act now,
to lay the foundations. It will take cathedral thinking. Wake up. Make changes.
Machines Like Me
Adam was not a sex toy, but he was capable of sex. This highly advanced model of artificial human was advertised as a companion, an intellectual
sparring partner, friend and factotum who could wash dishes, make beds, and think. In every moment of his existence, everything he heard and
saw he recorded and could retrieve.
What I wanted to pursue was the idea of a creature who was morally superior to ourselves. My ambition was to create a set of
circumstances in which Adam would make decisions that we would see as severe and antihuman, but in many senses were both logical and ethically
pure. Novelists throughout time have pursued the field of play within a love triangle, in which moral certainties and doubts can run against
The situation in which I imagine an artificial creature would give us great trouble would be one in which someone we love takes
an act of revenge, and that revenge is righteous. It seems inevitable and has a distinct and decent moral cause. The question is how to punish
that person when you oppose the notion of revenge with the rule of law. Adam takes the view that the rule of law must always be followed,
and that any act of revenge is the beginning of social breakdown.
Our own lack of self-knowledge will make it very difficult to encode a being that is good in the sense that we would find good.
It might make ruthless logical decisions that we would find inhuman even though we in a sense might agree with them. I think we will run
into enormous but fascinating problems.
2019 April 16
European Parliament Address
The Article 50 extension agreed last week has a few advantages:
1 A long extension ensures that all options remain on the table, such as ratification of the
current withdrawal agreement, or extra time to rethink Brexit, if that were the wish of the British people.
2 It allows the EU to focus on other priorities that are at least as important, such as trade with
the US or the new EU leadership. Since the very beginning of the Brexit process, the UK has been a constructive and responsible EU member
state. We have no reason to believe this will change.
3 The flexible extension delays the possibly of a no-deal Brexit by six months. Thanks to this,
millions of people and businesses have gained at least some certainty in this unstable time.
German Foreign Policy
We are living through a new age of great power competition. If we want to stand our ground, we have to confront this as Europeans. If some EU member
states allow themselves to be bought out, then Europe will become a mere object of world politics. That cannot be our goal.
In Germany we have outlined a path that takes us to 2024, when we will spend 1.5% of GDP on defense. That is an increase of 40%. Both
from a financial and a political point of view, that is for the German public an ambitious project. I know there is irritation on this issue, but
we will deliver.
Our policy on Saudi Arabia is correct. You cannot sit in the UN Security Council and call on the conflict parties involved in Yemen to
stop the war, and then go out and act as if nothing happened. Changes in American foreign policy mean we now have to take on more responsibility
The Iran nuclear agreement has been pronounced dead so many times it should have broken down a long time ago. But Iran has an interest
in keeping the agreement alive. It gives Iran access to Europe. I think this deal has a future.
Britain cannot drag out Brexit for a decade. Another extension could send the signal that the UK plans to stay in the EU after all.
You cannot say you want to leave and then hold a European Parliament election.
Queen Elizabeth II
The Queen presides over an institution that symbolizes a system of representation that cannot cope with globalization, migration or technology.
The right talk about vassal states and sovereignty. The sovereign UK has a monarchy that legitimates hereditary privilege,
the Lords, and owning half of Scotland. Even sensible people fall for the circus of honors, ermine and empire, while young men get their
legs blown off to serve Queen and country.
Dismantle the monarchy. When the Queen dies, let the whole monstrous shebang go with her. Only then can the UK be a sovereign
2019 April 15
A climate rebellion that organisers say could last several days has blocked central London. Thousands of people occupied major junctions and
demanded urgent action over the escalating ecological crisis. The protests are part of a global campaign organised by Extinction Rebellion,
with demonstrations planned in 80 cities across 33 countries in the coming days.
New Internationalist contributing editor Jamie Kelsey Fry: "This is not a political movement; this is a movement of humanity.
We are all backgrounds, all ages, all races, bound together in one wish, one dream, which is that we will have a good, decent, loving future,
for generations to come."
2019 April 14
★ We declare nonviolent rebellion against the US government for its criminal inaction on the ecological crisis.
★ We demand that the US government tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency. It must reverse all policies
not in alignment with that position and must work alongside the media to communicate the urgency for change, including what individuals, communities,
and businesses need to do.
★ The US government must enact legally binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and take further action to
remove the excess of atmospheric greenhouse gases. It must cooperate internationally so that the global economy runs on no more than half a planet's
worth of resources per year.
★ We do not trust the US government to make the bold, swift, and long-term changes necessary to achieve these changes and we do
not intend to hand further power to our politicians. Instead we demand a Citizens' Assembly to oversee the changes, as we rise from the wreckage,
creating a democracy fit for purpose.
★ We demand a just transition that prioritizes the most vulnerable people and indigenous sovereignty —
AR Sorry, stop there. Identitarian thoughtcrime.
The North Atlantic Treaty was signed by 12 governments in Washington on April 4, 1949. NATO played a key role in deterring the Soviet Union
from attempting to extend its power any further west than the River Elbe. During the Cold War, Moscow sought to expand its influence worldwide, but it
left western Europe alone.
In those days, a small group of western academics did what they could to expose communism and to support political and religious dissidents
in the Soviet sphere of influence. A member of that group was Roger Scruton, who in 1998 was awarded the
Czech Republic's Medal of Merit by its then president Vaclav Havel.
Last year, Sir Roger Scruton was appointed chairman of a UK government commission on buildings. Almost immediately, the attacks from the
left began. Last week, the government took the bait and sacked him.
A direct descendant of the illiberal, egalitarian ideology that once suppressed free speech in eastern Europe is now shutting down debate
in the West. An attack on one of us must be considered an attack on all of us. Let us sign a new Nonconformist Academic Treaty.
AR Nonconformists are the new conservatives.
Bomb the Rubble
Before I die, I want to see UK politics move on from bickering about Europe. But the fetishizing of compromise proposed by archbishops, royalty, scared
business leaders, and most of the really nice people in British public life bids fair to prolong these agonies indefinitely. Compromise can be the
most corrosive outcome of all.
Remainers should vote for a confirmatory referendum in hopes of revoking. Leavers should do so in hopes of staying in the game. Then
let the electorate settle it.
AR Kill the issue. Burn out all traces.
2019 April 13
Is Superintelligence Impossible?
David Chalmers and Daniel Dennett
An Edge conversation hosted by John Brockman in Brooklyn on April 10, 2019
Today marks the centenary of a British general gunning down unarmed Indians who had gathered peacefully in a park in Amritsar. Mahatma Gandhi had helped
recruit soldiers during WW1 to preserve the empire, but the Amritsar atrocity prompted him to see British rule as satanic.
Indians contributed massively to the WW1 victory. They were confident the British would reward them with dominion status. But the
war cabinet had secretly concluded it would take Indians 500 years to learn to rule themselves.
When the British introduced draconian powers of search and arrest without warrant, and detention without trial, tensions escalated.
British troops killed about 15 Indians, and Indians killed 5 British civilians in retaliation. On 13 April 1919, General Reginald Dyer marched in.
Dyer led a small party of soldiers into the heart of Amritsar. There 15,000 to 20,000 had gathered, including women and children. Without
warning, Dyer ordered his soldiers to fire. They fired for 10 minutes and stopped only when they ran out of ammunition. By then 337 men,
41 women, and a baby had been killed, with another 1,500 injured.
The British in India saw Dyer as the saviour of the Raj. In the House of Commons, the secretary of state for India, Edwin Montagu, was
portrayed as anti-Dyer, and the House debated a motion to reduce Montagu's salary. Montagu was Jewish, and that became the central issue.
The British political class talk of the Commonwealth as a family. But the British empire was at best a real-life Downton Abbey, with
the black and brown people downstairs and the whites upstairs.
AR See the Richard Attenborough movie
2019 April 12
Black Hole Image: The Crucial Algorithm
The Event Horizon Telescope relies on interferometry to combine the signals from 8 telescopes into a graphic image. The data collected was physically
shipped to a central location, the MIT Haystack Observatory, on 500 kg of hard drives. Dr Katie Bouman led the development of new algorithms to
combine the data, filter out noise, and synchronize the signals from the telescopes.
Black Hole Image: The Crucial Person
Dr Katie Bouman, 29, led work on the computer program that assembled the black hole image. She started 3 years ago as a grad student at MIT
and led the project, assisted by a team from the MIT CSAI Lab, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the MIT Haystack Observatory.
Bouman, now an assistant professor at Caltech, says the team deserves equal credit.
2019 April 11
European Council president Donald Tusk: "Tonight the European Council decided to grant the United Kingdom a flexible extension of the Article 50 period
until October 31 .. During this time, the [UK] can still ratify the withdrawal agreement, in which case the extension will be terminated. It can
also reconsider the whole Brexit strategy .. Until the end of this period, the UK will also have the possibility to revoke Article 50 and cancel
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker: "In June when we meet again .. the withdrawal agreement should .. not be called into
question because that would jeopardise the backstop agreement .. There will probably be a European election in the UK .. we must respect European laws.
I do rather regret the fact that we only talk about Brexit .. in October we'll see what happens."
AR Relief — time to hold an election or a referendum and then revoke A50.
Seeing Black Hole M87
Black holes were conceived of as a thought experiment. Karl Schwarzschild discovered this possible solution to Einstein's general theory of relativity and
inferred that spacetime effectively spills toward the crushed center. Even light gets dragged down the hole, casting a shadow on the sky bounded by the
When a dying star is heavy enough, gravity causes it the collapse catastrophically. The event horizon is left behind as an archaeological
record while the stellar material continues to fall inward to an unknown fate. In our own Milky Way galaxy there could be billions of black holes.
Supermassive black holes, millions or even billions of times the mass of the sun, anchor the centers of nearly all galaxies. Maybe they
formed from dead stars that merged and escalated in size, or maybe they directly collapsed out of more primordial material in a younger universe.
There are as many supermassive black holes as there are galaxies.
The Event Horizon Telescope is a testament to bold ideas. Exploiting large radio telescopes around the globe, EHT became a composite
telescope the size of the Earth. As the planet spins and orbits, the target black hole rises into the field of view of component telescopes around
the planet. To render a precise image, the telescopes need to operate as one, which involves sensitive time corrections so that one global eye looks
toward the black hole.
Messier 87 is an enormous elliptical galaxy 55 million light-years away that is known to harbor a supermassive black hole between
3.5 billion and 7.2 billion times the mass of the Sun. It is illuminated by debris caught in a hot disk orbiting very near the event horizon.
The disk appears to surround the black hole, allowing for a bright contrast against which its shadow is visible.
AR The disk radiation wraps around the black hole due to gravitational bending, so the result resembles what we call an
Black Hole M87
A team processing results from a worldwide network of powerful radio telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) has
released this first-ever graphic image of a black hole. The image depicts the supermassive black hole at the heart of the galaxy
Messier 87. The hole is 55 million light years away and has a mass 6.6 billion times that of the Sun.
To prepare the historic image, which represents radio signals with red light, the EHT took several petabytes of data collected in
2017 and 2018 and processed it in Boston, USA, and Bonn, Germany. The EHT has such a high resolution that a person in London
with eyes this sharp could read a newspaper as far away as New York.
AR The image conforms to the expectations we have from general relativity. The event horizon on the bright side is moving
toward us, as illustrated in Kip Thorne's simulation for the movie Interstellar.
"It's better than anything
2019 April 10
At lunch at the Oxford and Cambridge Club in Pall Mall last week I met up with an old friend, a distinguished engineer and researcher on rocket technology
who has worked for NASA. Over coffee, he leant across the table: "Can you explain Brexit to me? I just can't get my head around it."
2019 April 9
Brexit Extra Time
UK prime minister Theresa May visits Angela Merkel in Berlin and Emmanuel Macron in Paris today, before the EU summit tomorrow. EU leaders will ask the UK
not to block or disrupt EU decisions during an extension period that may be up to March 31, 2020, to end early if the withdrawal agreement is approved
A senior EU official: "If there is a wild Brexiteer as a new Tory PM, they would be able to do nothing until after March 31, 2020, unless
they subscribe to the withdrawal agreement. We will simply not hold talks. If a new British leader refuses these terms, it will simply be no deal on
the date, with plenty of time for us to prepare."
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier: "If the UK were to leave the EU without a deal, we would not discuss anything with the UK until there
was an agreement for Ireland and Northern Ireland as well as for citizens' rights and the financial settlement."
EU Withdrawal (No 5) Act
A new act of parliament delays article 50 and forces the government to set out its timetable for the length of the Brexit delay in order to prevent the UK
exiting the EU with no deal.
The bill devised by Yvette Cooper and Oliver Letwin passed its final stages in the House of Lords on Monday night and was approved in the
Commons by 392 votes to 85.
The EU Withdrawal (No 5) Act received royal assent just after 11 pm Monday. The government then tabled a motion setting out its plan to
seek an extension until 30 June.
EverCrypt is a new set of digital cryptography tools. It is invulnerable to all the main types of hacking attacks. Its developers specified exactly what
their code is supposed to do and then proved it does that and only that, ruling out the possibility that the code could fail under unusual circumstances,
by means of formal verification.
Work on EverCrypt began in 2016 as a part of Project Everest, an initiative led by Microsoft Research. The team developed a programming
platform that could express all the different attributes they wanted in a verified cryptographic library by creating a new programming language that
put the math and the software on equal footing.
EverCrypt is proven to be free of coding errors, mathematical errors, and data leaks.
AR Formal verification uses the logic I researched some 40 years ago.
Poole Bay, April 8
I shall speak for Remain
"Let us be patient."
Nonlocality and contextuality
Revoke Article 50 petition
exceeds 6 million
Hamming cube, N = 3
2019 April 8
The rise of China is the great economic and political fact of our lifetime. China launched its Belt and Road initiative OBOR in 2013 to expand Chinese
influence in Eurasia. So far, 12 EU members have signed OBOR memoranda of understanding.
China is threatening to dominate the entire Eurasian landmass. German companies see China as the key to the future of their export-led
economy. Yet the German industrial organization BDI warns that Chinese practices pose an existential threat.
EU leaders have taken the first steps to constrain Chinese economic expansion in Europe. Britain is merely a discordant noise offstage
as it bungles Brexit.
AR The UK lacks politicians with the bandwidth and legroom to tackle such global affairs. The EU offers the better base
for the job.
2019 April 7
If we do nothing to stop carbon emissions, the planet will warm by over 3 K. Over a hundred major cities will flood and the world economy will lose
a cumulative $550 trillion. Wars will break out over access to fresh water, millions will die due to heat waves, floods, wildfires and pollution,
and drought will fuel political extremism — all this within our lifetimes or those of our children.
Joshua S. Goldstein, Staffan A. Qvist, Steven Pinker
To solve climate change, we must eliminate fossil fuels by 2050 — or we're cooked.
Germany went for renewables, but if the world went that way it would take more than a century to decarbonize. France and Sweden
decarbonized their grids decades ago and enjoy much cheaper electricity than Germany. They did this with nuclear power.
The only reasons the United States and other countries don't expand their nuclear capacity are economics and fear.
New nuclear power plants are hugely expensive to build in the United States today. But they don't need to be. The keys to building
affordable nuclear plants are standardization and a sensible regulatory framework. This depends on overcoming an irrational dread among the public.
Nuclear power is safe. In all its 60 years, only three accidents have raised public alarm: Three Mile Island in 1979, which killed no one;
Fukushima in 2011, which killed no one; and Chernobyl in 1986, the result of extraordinary Soviet bungling, which killed 31 in the accident and perhaps
several thousand from cancer, around the same number killed by coal emissions every day.
Nuclear power plants cannot explode like nuclear bombs, and they have not contributed to weapons proliferation, thanks to robust
Nuclear waste is compact and can be stored safely. After we have solved climate change, we can either burn the waste as fuel in
new reactors or bury it. This is a far easier environmental challenge than coal waste.
Nuclear can become the new green. We can solve climate change and leave our grandchildren a bright future. We can end the idea
that we're cooked.
Quantum Theory and Reality
The quantum story of how the world works at the atomic level offends intuition. Albert Einstein championed realism. Niels Bohr
said no such realist picture is possible. Anti-realism won the day.
Einstein began in 1905 by embracing the idea of photons. Louis de Broglie said if light can be both a wave and a particle, the same
duality can be true of other particles. Erwin Schrödinger invented the math. Bohr announced the birth not just of a
new physics but of a new philosophy.
Lee Smolin says realistic science is under attack: "So maybe it's all up to a brilliant student
somewhere, impossibly arrogant, as the young Einstein was, but blindingly talented enough to absorb the essentials of all we have done, before
putting them to one side and confidently starting over."
AR Waves are premonitions of particles, before they settle into 4D locations within a cosmic flux that cools into
the 4D forms of both us and them. Thus I reconcile realism and anti-realism. The math is beyond me.
2019 April 6
Theresa May has surrendered any right to be seen as a prime minister acting in good faith. From the moment she pulled the vote on her withdrawal agreement,
she has consistently placed her own interests above those of the UK. Her request for a short extension makes a mockery of her negotiations with Labour.
She cannot let go of the idea that she may yet triumph.
EU Stress Test
ERG extremist Jacob Rees-Mogg says if the UK stayed in the EU it could veto any increase in the budget, obstruct the putative EU army, block new
integrationist schemes, and elect Tommy Robinson to the European parliament.
Since the UK triggered Article 50, the EU27 has shown extraordinary solidarity, whereas the UK has a split parliament, split government,
split opposition, and split cabinet. When the EU27 threw its collective weight behind Ireland, it ended centuries of abusive British relations with
The past three years have discredited British politics and advertised the benefits of European cooperation.
A model of synchronization in a population of oscillators shows why coupled oscillators spontaneously synchronize. Computer simulations show mixed
"chimera" states of synchrony and asynchrony.
The brain looks like a complicated chimera that sustains both synchronous and asynchronous firing of neurons. Perhaps consciousness
arises in a complicated and delicate balance of synchrony and asynchrony.
Networks can break up into clusters of synchronized oscillators. Indirectly linked oscillators can form a cluster, while the
oscillators between them form different clusters or drift. They can even form chaotic states.
Synchronization is a manifestation of symmetry and symmetry breaking, where network symmetries reflect the ways oscillators can be
swapped without changing the network.
2019 April 5
Theresa May has written to European Council president Donald Tusk asking for an Article 50 extension up to 30 June 2019, or earlier if a deal
is reached, and promising continued preparations to hold European parliamentary elections.
Tusk would like to offer Theresa May a one-year "flextension" to keep it simple, so long as the EU27 agree unanimously at the
summit on 10 April. Tusk is offering flexibility to avoid any suggestion that the EU is seeking to trap the UK.
2019 April 4
Roof Leaks: Commons Adjourned
During a rainy-day debate on taxation, Justin Madders MP struggled to be heard as a water leak in the roof of the Commons chamber grew louder.
The sitting had to be suspended at the conclusion of his speech. The House of Commons adjourned for the day.
AR The Palace of Westminster is in urgent need of a renovation that will cost billions. It seems a fitting metaphor
for Brexit Britain.
Brexit: Commons Passes Cooper−Letwin
MPs have voted through an emergency bill to instruct Theresa May to seek an extension to Article 50 and avoid a no-deal Brexit.
The bill, spearheaded by Labour former shadow minister Yvette Cooper and Conservative former minister Sir Oliver Letwin, passed
half an hour before midnight, after MPs had defeated a number of obstructive amendments.
MPs had initially voted by 312 to 311 to let the bill proceed. Cooper and Letwin then had six hours to pass its second reading,
committee stage, and third reading through the House of Commons. It finally passed its third reading by 313 to 312 and must now pass the
House of Lords.
The government opposed the bill.
AR Seeking an extension is only half the job. The EU will only agree to an extension if the UK participates in the
European parliamentary elections on May 23.
Goodbye EU, Goodbye UK
The Brexit story was supposed to be about the UK leaving the EU. It has turned into a runaway national crisis. Brexit is really about identity and
A strain of Conservatism has never come to terms with the loss of empire. But Brexit is an English rather than a British enterprise.
It belongs overwhelmingly to provincial England.
Theresa May's government insists that powers returned from Brussels will be hoarded at Westminster. The prime minister wants to
reduce immigration. Scotland sees no reason to shackle itself to the rule of English nationalists.
Nor can Northern Ireland's place in the UK be taken for granted. The DUP is adamant that a deal with the EU27 does not differentiate
between NI and the rest of the UK. But nothing has done so much as Brexit to reopen the question of Irish unification.
Britishness is an invented identity. It was promoted during the 19th century to cast empire as a joint project of the four nations
of the UK. More recently, as the empire came home, it has provided a welcoming mantle for immigrants from former imperial outposts.
Allegiance to England is predominantly for white nationalists. The threads of Britishness unravel. Identity politics elbows aside
AR If the UK leaves the EU, the smaller, older, poorer union will soon decay.
2019 April 3
The English Nationalist Revolution Is Over
The illusions of the May administration have crumbled. After years of civil service expertise wasted, economic growth lost, and legislative time squandered,
Theresa May has turned for help to Jeremy Corbyn. She has bottled out of a fourth meaningful vote, ditched the threat of no deal, and thrown herself on
the mercy of parliament.
Labour's proposed Brexit deal would sign Britain up to the customs union and enter a state of "dynamic alignment" with the rules of the
single market. If May can accept this, thus splitting the Tory party for a generation, Corbyn should consider the offer. But May will lose her
authority when her party sees the scale of her defeat.
Any deal done must be put to a second referendum, with remain as the other option. Despite getting 6 million signatures on a petition,
the simple revocation of Article 50 would have zero democratic legitimacy. To cancel the disastrous effects of the 2016 referendum, we need another one.
May's bombshell means the Little English nationalist revolution is over. This is a victory for the democratic process. Let's find out now
what there is a majority for and test it at the ballot box against the most obvious solution: Remain in the EU.
says breakthrough negotiation is the art of letting the other person have your way. First identify your own interests and your best alternative to a
negotiated agreement, or BATNA.
The EU interest is for the UK to remain a member and accept the four freedoms. The EU has a fairly strong BATNA and the UK has a weak one.
But many negotiated deals are better for the EU than its fallback position.
Brussels has an interest in holding out for a deal. Once a long extension begins, it can relax. Ury: "Even if you have a decisive
power advantage, you should think twice before lunging for victory."
Nonlocal games involve quantum entanglement. Two players are each asked a simple question. They win the game if their answers are coordinated in
a certain way. They cannot communicate with each other, but if they share pairs of entangled quantum particles, they can enhance the correlations
between their answers.
For some nonlocal games, the more pairs of entangled quantum particles the players share, the better they can play. Optimal play
needs infinitely many pairs of entangled particles or properties. So it is impossible to compute the maximum-win probability for such games.
The two players in a nonlocal game are kept from coordinating their answers in two ways:
1 Physically isolate the players from each other. We analyze this case using the tensor product model and
use it to compute a floor for the maximum-win probability of nonlocal games: the algorithm pushes it above some limit.
2 Require that the order in which the two players measure their entangled particles cannot affect their
answers. We analyze this case with the commuting operator model and use it to compute a ceiling on the maximum-win probability: the algorithm
pushes it below some limit.
The longer the algorithms run, the more they appear to converge. To establish that they converge to infinity, we would need to
prove the two models equivalent. Then the ceiling and the floor converge to a single value. Otherwise, pushing the limits might push the
ceiling below the floor.
Calculating more exact maximum-win probabilities for nonlocal games is exponentially hard, an NP problem.
2019 April 2
The Guardian, 1714 UTC
After a 7-hour cabinet meeting, Theresa May calls for a further extension of Article 50 "that would be as short as possible" and would end once a
deal is struck.
She says any plan both she and Jeremy Corbyn agreed upon would be put to MPs for approval with a view to it being taken to the
European Council meeting on 10 April.
If she and Corbyn cannot agree a unified approach, a series of options for the future relationship would be put to the Commons in a
series of votes. The government would abide by the decision of the House if Labour did so too.
May says she wants the process to be finished by 22 May so that the UK does not have to take part in the European Parliament elections.
She says the debate cannot be allowed to drag on and any deal must include her withdrawal agreement.
AR I predict that May's call for a "short extension" will fail and no deal will be agreed by 12 April. To save the UK,
MPs need to force revocation of Article 50 before 12 April.
2019 April 1
BBC News, 2108 UTC
Tonight MPs cast indicative votes to defeat four Brexit motions:
✗ C: Customs union (possibly without freedom of movement)
— votes for 273, votes against 276
✗ D: Common market 2.0 (EEA/EFTA option, including a customs union, rather like Norway)
— votes for 261, votes against 282
✗ E: Confirmatory public vote (a second referendum to be held on any deal agreed in order to
confirm or reject it)
— votes for 280, votes against 292
✗ G: Parliamentary supremacy (if no agreement is reached by April 10, the PM is required to
request the EU for an extension, and if none is granted to repeal Article 50 forthwith)
— votes for 191, votes against 292
Conservative MPs were given a free vote on the motions, but the cabinet was told to abstain. Labour MPs were urged
to back motion D.
Change Mixes Order and Randomness
Tim Austin has proved the weak Pinsker conjecture and showed that dynamical systems blend chance and determinism.
A dynamical system starts with some input, applies some rules, and produces some output. You can repeat this process: Take the new state,
apply the same rules, and get the next state.
Some dynamical systems can be seen as combining two simpler systems. The two systems act independently but together form the more complex
system. The two naturally simplest systems are deterministic ones and random ones.
The weak Pinsker conjecture is that for a certain large class of dynamical systems, each system is a mix of a random system and an almost
completely deterministic system.
Austin analyzed dynamical systems running in discrete space and time, with a dynamical system outputting a sequence of 1s and 0s. He
analyzed these bit strings using Hamming cubes, in which each vertex is assigned N bits. Moving from one vertex to another flips one bit, and
the distance between any two vertices equals the number of flips between the bit strings.
Considering how frequently a dynamical system produces a given bit string, Austin found the strings cluster on the Hamming cube in a
way that blends chance and determinism.
AR A basic result for all coding geeks.